ARGYLE — Ron Hintz never thought he was very smart.
“I thought I was a dummy,” said the 82-year-old Hintz, a resident of Washington Center nursing home in Argyle.
He was tested in junior high school, and his teachers realized Hintz was smarter than they all thought.
A lot smarter.
“The teacher comes wide-eyed and tells me I did very well on the test,” he said. “And that was a big surprise for all of us.”
Growing up in Oakland, California, Hintz was a baseball player who wanted to go into the Navy. But after his stellar test scores, Hintz was placed with other college-bound students and eventually was accepted to the University of California at Berkeley on a Navy scholarship.
There, Hintz started working with magnets. He worked his way through college at the Lawrence National Laboratory, where he dabbled in superconducting magnets. His work would eventually lead to work with some of the very first MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) machines. MRI machines are primarily used as a diagnostic procedure to render images inside a patient.
He worked at the Lawrence Lab through college and graduated in 1962. He now holds numerous patents on magnets. His work eventually brought him to Latham. He most recently lived in Corinth before a mini-stroke landed him at the Washington Center less than a year ago.
“I probably have and share more patents on these magnets than anybody in the world,” said Hintz, who looks a bit like inventor Benjamin Franklin with his shoulder-length white hair and glasses. “If you Google my name, you find out I’m into these patents quite a bit.”
There are good ways and iffy ways to build MRI machines, Hintz said.
“If they quench, they lose all their liquid helium and you have to start all over. And liquid helium is a precious commodity,” he said. “So now we make these magnets — we call it ‘zero boil off,’ because we have a refrigerator on now that maintains the helium. And if it’s a good design, you never have to refill it and you never have to recharge it. They’re in persistent mode.”
One of his very first magnets was put into a machine in New York City and was in persistent mode for 10 years, he said. Another magnet he helped design was a large magnet for fusion power, and it weighed a million pounds.
The most important magnet he built was a pair of magnets for a cyclotron used to confirm the existence of a new element, named seaborgium after nuclear chemist Glenn T. Seaborg.
Hintz has been inside an MRI machine as a patient.
“Sometime it feels like somebody put a pail over your head and they’re banging on it,” said Hintz, who said he also had a hand in helping to design the open MRIs built by Hitachi.
Hintz never planned to go into magnets, but said his guardian angels had other plans for him.
“When I applied for a job at the Lawrence radiation laboratory, I came in wearing my spiffy uniform and they gave me a job, which turned my life into what it is,” he said. “It turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to me.”
He believes in angels and says they have saved his life time and time again.
“Someday you may discover that you’re doing precisely what they want you to do,” said Hintz, who is also on a mission to get U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., to visit Washington Center.
Gillibrand, he said, cares about veterans and has made health care her No. 1 priority. He wants to invite her to the center’s Valentine’s Day party.
“When I think of trying to get Kirsten in here, I simply think, is that what my angel would want me to be doing?” he said.
When the center celebrated Veterans Day, Gillibrand supplied the center with an American flag that had been flown over the White House. Hintz wants to recreate that celebration because, he said, he expects she might be living at the White House someday.