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Charles R. Kurtak

by Susan J. Ainsworth
August 18, 2014 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 92, Issue 33

Charles R. Kurtak, 94, a retired Union Carbide plant superintendent, died at his home in Bishop, Calif., on June 24.

Born in Kettle Falls, Wash., Kurtak earned a B.S. in chemistry from Washington State University in 1942.

After serving in the Navy during World War II, he worked as a fire assayer, determining the metal content of rock samples for the Idaho Bureau of Mines & Geology in Moscow, Idaho.

He joined U.S. Vanadium Corp. in 1954 as a chemist at its Pine Creek Tungsten Mine near Bishop. Union Carbide took over ownership of the mine and operated it from 1981 until 1986.

At Pine Creek, Kurtak worked to troubleshoot problems in the tungsten ore milling process to improve recovery. The Pine Creek ore was difficult to process because it contained the mineral powellite, which is made up of both tungsten and ­molybdenum.

Kurtak was a member of a team that did metallurgical testing and research that resulted in the elimination of a step in the milling process to directly produce an ammonium paratungstate product—a precursor to tungsten metal—that was of a higher quality than that produced by competitors. The product helped Union Carbide capture nearly 50% of the U.S. tungsten market at the time. A patent for the simplified process was issued in Kurtak’s name in 1964.

Collaborating with Larry Hartzog, Kurtak developed a process to upgrade the operation’s molybdic oxide product and shared two patents resulting from this work. He was an emeritus member of ACS, joining in 1949.

After retiring from Union Carbide in 1985, Kurtak remained in the Bishop area, enjoying hunting, fishing, and hiking with his wife, Virginia. She died in 2004.

Kurtak is survived by his sons, Dan and Joe, and two grandchildren.

Obituary notices of no more than 300 words may be sent to Susan J. Ainsworth at and should include an educational and professional history.



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