Giants of the Past

Giants of the past: Dr. Timothy Lee Mounts (1937-1997)

Timothy Lee Mounts was born September 14, 1937, in Peoria Illinois. Dr. Mounts graduated from Spalding Institute in 1955 and began college at Bradley University as a chemistry major and received his BS degree in 1959. While at Bradley Dr. Mounts was employed during summers (1957-1959) at the Northern Regional Research laboratory as a student trainee under the supervision of Drs. HJ Dutton and JC Cowan. After graduation, Dr. Mounts entered the US Air Force as an officer and was discharged as a 1st lieutenant and returned to Peoria where he was permanently hired as a junior chemist in 1962. Dr. Mounts realized the potential for advancement depended on further education and returned to Bradley where he completed requirements for a Master’s degree in Chemistry.(1969) His thesis research centered around the mechanism of the conjugation of fatty acids by alkali isomerization.

His early research at the Peoria lab focused on the use of radioactive tracers in lipid research. A special laboratory named the” hot lab” was established for the purpose of handling radioactive materials and their uses. Typical applications included the use of C 14 and tritium as labels for studies on the biosynthesis of fatty acids and plants as well as microvaporphase hydrogenation of edible fats and oils. During this time frame, Dr. Mounts was recognized by two Gold Bond Awards for the outstanding presentations at Annual AOCS meetings. By the early 1970 several retirements from the lab staff created the need for a research leader to head up the edible oil program. Dr. Mounts was selected and successfully transitioned from general lipid chemistry to edible fats and oils.

In the 1970s The USDA received complaints from foreign importers of soybeans from the US. Oil quality factors including increased free fatty acids, high refining losses, high levels of non-hydratable phosphatides were less than satisfactory. Dr. Mounts’s research group was assigned to determine factors responsible for the poor quality of US soybeans and oil. The studies showed that splits were responsible for deterioration. Separation of beans into splits and whole beans followed by extraction and analytical tests demonstrated that the oil from split beans was inferior to the whole beans. Although number 2 US soybeans may contain up to 20% splits poor handling practices at the destination often contributed to increased levels of splits. Non-hydratable phosphatides had been a serious problem for many years. Soybean oil from high-quality beans could be degummed with water having low amounts of phospholipids. However, oil from imported beans was difficult to degum. Studies showed that 4 factors contribute to non-hydratable phosphatide formation including enzymatic activity, heat, increased temperature, and cellular disruption. Control of these parameters in extraction plants and trans-oceanic shipments proved to substantially reduce phospholipid destruction.

Dr. Mounts research group made substantial contributions in improving low-temperature applications of liquid soybean oil. A major finding showed that hydrogenation is not required for improving flavor and oxidative stability as had been previously assumed and was a standard industry practice.

The linolenic acid content of soybean oil had long been recognized as a major factor limiting its use edible applications. Efforts to remove it by catalytic hydrogenation were only partially successful. Fractionation with furfural was commercialized in the 1950s but discontinued. Plant breeding was explored in the 1960x with limited success. However, the pioneering work of Dr. Earl Hammond and Walter Fehr along with advancements in plant biochemistry brought soybean oil with 3% linolenic acid by plant breeding to reality. Much of the stability work was done in Dr. Mount’s research group. Through cooperation with scientists in academia, seed companies a number of studies were reported on the stability and food applications. In addition to low linolenic acid soybean oil, trait modified canola and sunflower oils were characterized for composition, and performance in deep fat frying. In addition, soybean oils with increased saturated fatty acid content were assessed for solid fat applications. The results of these investigations showed that trait modified oils were suitable as trans fat replacements and eliminated the need for hydrogenation. Low linolenic acid soybean oil was commercialized in the early 1990s but the higher costs of grower premiums and the need for identity preservation were not attractive to food companies and despite annual sales of 500 million dollars, it was discontinued. However trans fat labeling brought renewed interest in trait modified oils and introduction of mid and high oleic acid soybean oils. Success in sunflower plant breeding lead to mid and high oleic sunflower oils being commercialized. Again Dr. Mounts, group conducted much of the stability and food application research leading to commercialization. The permeability of oxygen through certain packaging materials for bottled oils was a problem that limited usage in retail sales.

A study published in 1984 examined flavor and oxidative stability of soybean oils packaged in clear glass, amber glass, polyvinyl choride, and acroylnitrile plastic bottles. In addition, the effects of nitrogen packaging were reported. The results indicated that the plastic bottles were alternatives to clear glass packaging.

A major thrust of Dr. Mounts research group centered around the development of technologies to prepare trans free fats and to formulate trans free foods. Trans free margarine and shortening oils were described by the random interesterification of liquid vegetable oils and hardstocks. By blending interesterified base stocks and additional liquid oil resulted in margarine and shortening oils having suitable solid fat and melting points. Margarines formulated from interesterified soybean oils were shown to have suitable spreadability, penetration /consistency, and resistance to oil off.

A study of the triglyceride structure of high stearic acid soybean lines showed that the biosynthetic patterns are much like conventional lines with saturated acids found in the outer1-3 positions of glycerol and the unsaturated acids were found in the 2 position. As such the solid triglycerides are primarily symmetrical and tend to melt sharply at temperatures below about 15C. Interesterification was shown to markedly increase the melting points of high stearic acid soybean oil about 20C. Such soft tub margarines can be produced having suitable properties. One high stearic line (A6) showed stearic acid contents of about 33% compared to about 20% for others.A 6 has solid fat at 10 and 21.1 C sufficient for margarine without the need for interesterification and the addition of 2-3% hardstock meets the profile for margarine.

In 1980 Dr. Mounts was selected as the 3rd Oilseed Crop Laboratory Chief succeeding JC. Cowan (1940-1973) and HJ Dutton (1974-1980). Under his leadership, a program on the use of supercritical fluids for oilseed extraction was initiated and was highly successful. J.P.Freidrich and JW king and coworkers helped to bring the technology to the forefront.

Dr. Mounts was a leader in AOCS for many years as a North Central Section President, the governing board, as treasurer, vice president, and AOCS president in 1988. Dr. Mounts was active in the books and special publications area as well as an Associate editor for JAOCS. Tom Applewhite stepped down as editor of INFORM in 1993. Dr. Mounts was selected as his replacement and served in that capacity until his death in 1997. During his long career Dr. Mounts served in 19 capacities. Among them were the chairing and organizing world conferences on oilseed processing. He served as technical chairman for the 1985 world congress in Cannes France. Dr. Mounts received a number of prestigious awards for his research including the AE Bailey Award and the Chevreul Medal from the French Oil Chemists Society. 1n1991 he was selected as the Agricultural Scientist of the year. Bradley University recognized him as an outstanding alumna. His long and important service to AOCs was recognized by the A.R. Baldwin Award the societies highest service award in the late 1970s The American Soybean Association (ASA) commissioned a book on soybean oil processing and utilization. Dr. Mounts contributed to and edited the book published in 1980. The book has been reprinted 6 times and was translated in Spanish. Dr. Mounts was recognized by ASA with a utilization Award for his work as an author and consulting activities in behalf of ASA.

Dr. Mounts was widely consulted for his expertise in oilseed processing and edible oils. On behalf of the American Soybean Association, Dr. Mounts made a number of technology transfer trips to Central and South America to advise processors on soybean related matters. Dr. Mounts was selected to be the USA representative to the CODEX commission on fats and oils.

Dr. Mounts was a true patriot having served on active duty in the US Air Force. He was very active in the air national guard and rose to the rank of full colonel. In 1993 Dr. Mounts received The Meritorious Service Award. The citation follows “Colonel Timothy L. Mounts distinguished himself in the performance of outstanding service to the United States while assigned to the headquarters Illinois National Guard, O Hare Reserve forces facility from1 August 1984-30 April 1988. During this period the outstanding professional skill, leadership, and ceaseless efforts of Colonel Mounts resulted in major contributions to the effectiveness and success of Illinois National Guard personnel programs. He developed and implemented programs in officer manning, selective retention, enlisted professional military education, and senior noncommissioned officer promotion and assignments which have enhanced operations throughout the Illinois National Guard. The singular accomplishments of Colonel Mounts reflect great credit on himself, the Air National Guard, and the United States Air Force. The award came with a beautiful glass sculpture.

Upon his retirement from the guard in 1990 he was promoted to brigadier general. Dr. Mounts was very active in civic groups, including President of the Downtown Kiwanis Club. He served as president of the Notre Dame High School Foundation Board. In the 1970s Dr. Mounts founded the Center Bluff Neighborhood Housing Association and served on the Peoria Housing commission. Dr. Mounts was active in several religious groups as a member of The Peoria St Patrick’s Society and his Church. Dr. Mounts was proud of his Irish ancestry and was a member of St. Brenden’s Irish Cultural Society.


Dr. Mounts was my supervisor from 1975 until his death in 1997 from an inoperable brain tumor. He is survived by wife Eileen, a son and two daughters and a number of grandchildren. He had a friendly outgoing personality as well as great leadership skills. Dr. Mounts gave his scientists considerable freedom and micro managing was not part of his style. Moreover, he was quick to acknowledge that his scientists should have proper credit for their work and a leader’s effectiveness is judged by how far his associates advance in their careers. In the 1970s Dr. Mounts concern for his fellow workers lead him to form a union to ensure equal treatment for those not having a voice in dealing with upper management.

Dr. Mounts memory was honored by the establishment of a memorial Lecture given annually in his name. The award was sponsored by the Kiwanis Club, Bradley University and The Northern Laboratory in Peoria IL past guest speakers have included US astronauts.

Dr. John Cowan remarked the best decision he ever made was hiring Tim Mounts. Many others would agree.