In his 36 years with UNL, Milford Hanna has been the Kenneth E. Morrison Professor of Biological Systems Engineering as well as director of UNL’s Industrial Agricultural Products Center (IAPC).
His career has focused on value-added process engineering: biopolymers, biofuels, biomaterials and biopower with specific emphases in starch-based packaging materials, green biochemicals and biodiesel fuel.
Several of Hanna’s interests and areas of expertise converged at IAPC, which he has led since 1991; the center works closely with entrepreneurs and members of private industry from initial stages of research to final production. IAPC partners in developing bio-based industrial products and processing techniques that enhance industry's ability to compete in the global marketplace.
Hanna's path to this work began when he was the sixth of 12 children who grew up on the family’s dairy farm in western Pennsylvania, which made him a perennial early riser. Also formative was the advice of two mentors who influenced his career plans.
When Hanna as a teen “had no clue” what to pursue for work, Reed Franz, a vocational agriculture instructor and FFA adviser, told him to become an agricultural engineer. Hanna remembered: “In 1964, (Franz) said, ‘Someday you will make $20,000 a year’ … I’m glad he was wrong on that part.” Later, as an undergraduate at Penn State, Hanna worked for Nuri Mohsenin, who encouraged Hanna to gain his M.S. and Ph.D. degrees at Penn State.
While teaching at California Polytechnic State University, Hanna received a call from Bill Splinter, then head of the Agricultural Engineering program at the University of Nebraska. Hanna interviewed in Lincoln and swiftly joined the East Campus faculty, starting work on July 15, 1975.
Hanna, who holds five patents (“plus two provisional ones”), said being named the Morrison Professor was a huge honor and he fondly recalled meetings with its funder, Kenneth Morrison of Hastings. Looking back, Hanna said he values his teaching experiences (from 1975-1990), and his ensuing work with graduate students and postdoctoral colleagues. Those individuals, “as well as a few super technicians, have contributed so much to my success,” Hanna said. He added that he’ll miss interacting with the staff and students, but takes pride in the work accomplished—particularly the mentoring of “many Ph.D. students who’ve gone on to be very successful in industry and academia.”
Looking ahead, Hanna and his wife, Lenora, will continue being active in Kiwanis—in the Lincoln Northeast Club “all the way to the international level.” They are on a team that’s organizing fundraising for a project with UNICEF to eliminate maternal and neonatal tetanus in the world. They expect to travel, yet still be somewhat active in the UNL community.
With a second home at Horseshoe Lake near Mahoney State Park, Hanna can reflect on all this with family and friends by the campfire—but not too late in the evening, please, because this early riser has more to accomplish tomorrow.