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Expert brings experience to Aervoe project

by Linda Hiller

Larry Rogers has seen elements and sights in this world that most people only view in fuzzy newsreels.

He has held plutonium – the deadliest and heaviest substance known to man – in his latex-gloved hands, he has witnessed firsthand dozens of atomic blasts at the Nevada Test Site, and he was the only non-politician to sign – along with every world leader – the 1992 Earth Summit agreement in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Rogers’ ticket to many of these E-rides is his extensive background in nanostructured particles and nanotechnology, both involving ultra tiny particles – in fact, the prefix “nano” means one-billionth.

Rogers has a doctorate in nanostructured particles from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Mass., an institution that was founded by his great-great-grandfather, William Barton Rogers, in 1865.

– Myriad applications. With this fairly rare expertise and MIT education, Rogers has been in great demand all over the world, solving problems with nanostructure technology.

He developed a cleanser that was used to clean sea otters after the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska’s Prince William Sound.

“After the spill, I was contacted and asked if I could come up with anything that would be less toxic than the soap they were using to clean the otters,” he said. “They were having a 95 percent mortality rate because it was causing toxic shock – the soap was almost doing more harm than good. We ended up turning the rate of survival from 5 percent to 95 percent with the (nanostructured) sea otter soap.”

Former Gov. Bob Miller gave Rogers a Nevada Inventor of the Year award for the soap, which Rogers said he found amusing.

“I thought I was getting the award for my work with the nuclear industry, but it turned out to be for the sea otter soap,” he said. “Later, when Kuwait was being cleaned up after Desert Storm, they used the soap to clean up Kuwait. It took the lamp black off and everything.”

In fact, one million pounds of modified sea otter soap was manufactured in Mound House and shipped to the Kuwait Chemical Co. for the clean-up, he said.

Rogers, who is a special projects manager, developing anti-nuclear materials at Aervoe PAcific in Gardnerville, was also hired by the U.S. State Department to develop a synthetic charcoal (nanoprocessed) used to heat the living areas of Afghanistan refugees hiding high in the mountains during the Russian conflict in the 1980s. A movie, “Cause for Alarm,” documenting that effort and featuring Rogers, is in the process of being made, he said.

– Dad’s influence. Rogers’ first exposure to the Carson Valley came when he was a baby on vacation at Lake Tahoe, where the family had a home. Through the years, the family’s many pilgrimages to see bombs go off brought them back to Nevada.

These trips were precipitated by Larry’s father, Dewey Rogers, who was involved in the Manhattan Project through MIT’s Williams Rogers Trust, which was the overseer of this massive effort to make an atomic bomb during World War II.

The family often visited Nevada to watch bombs go off – Rogers estimates he’s seen 30 to 40 of them in his lifetime.

The first one he remembers was from the family’s camper truck parked in view of the bomb site when he was around 8 years old.

“We were about five miles out, and they would never tell you exactly when it was going to go off, but you knew within a period of time that it was going to happen,” he said. “I remember waking up right before sunrise and the whole inside of the camper was purple. I got up and ran outside the camper and the blast blew me up against the side of the camper. It hurt! Then I remember this hissing noise and how it tasted like aluminum, like an acrid metal, and it was all pink everywhere. About ten seconds later, the pink cloud went away and we could see the plume of the blast. We watched that for what seemed like hours.”

– Uncle Will Rogers. Rogers, 52, is a nephew of the late humorist and film actor, Will Rogers. Larry said his mother used to say he reminded her of “Uncle Will” because of his rebellious nature. Will Rogers died in 1935, before Larry was born, but he says “ask me anything” when Will Roger’s name comes up.

Rogers and his wife, Judy, a nurse in Carson City, have lived in the Carson Valley for 15 years. They have one daughter, Kama, 27, who lives in Reno.

Retiring young in the mid-1980s, Rogers said he had plans then that had nothing to do with the nuclear industry.

“I was going to fish myself to death,” he said. “But I came up with diabetes a few years ago, and my doctor told me to keep busy physically, so here I am. I walk a lot here.”

Rogers has a sense of humor beyond what you’d expect from someone who’s family has worked in a very serious business for generations. He said he does have some concern about health issues relating to long-term exposure to nuclear materials. All of his relatives who worked in the industry died of cancer.

“I am aware of the dangers,” he said. “In the beginning, they didn’t know what the health effects would be, but my wife keeps after me pretty good.”

Rogers also enjoyed a dozen or so years of playing Kit Carson locally, and participated in the 100-mile run last year as Carson before turning in his “skins” costume permanently.

“Now there’s someone else doing Kit Carson and I wish him well,” Rogers said. “I did it long enough. That last 100-mile run did me in.”