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"Father of Chemical Engineering" Neal Amundson Passes Away

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By: 

Lindsay Lewis

Neal Amundson, Cullen Professor Emeritus of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering and Professor of Mathematics, passed away yesterday at the age of 95.

"We are deeply saddened at the great loss of Neal Amundson to our UH community and to chemical engineering education and research," said Dean Joseph Tedesco. "His impact to UH and the profession have been, and will continue to be, extremely profound."

Widely regarded as one of the most prominent chemical engineering educators in the country, Amundson was a pioneer of chemical reaction engineering. His longstanding research contributions to the field of chemical reaction engineering included analyzing and modeling chemical reactors, separation systems, polymerization and coal combustion.

He was inducted into the National Academy of Engineering in 1970 for his pioneering research into the fundamental analysis of chemical processes as well as for his role in engineering education.

Before joining UH in 1976, he led the top-ranked University of Minnesota Department of Chemical Engineering for 25 years. His addition to the University of Houston helped launch chemical engineering program into the Top 10 nationally during the early 1980s.

"Neal was single-handedly responsible for building one of the best chemical engineering departments in the country at the University of Minnesota, " said Dan Luss, a Cullen Professor of Chemical Engineering at UH, who earned his Ph.D. from Amundson at the University of Minnesota in 1966. "He came to UH and was instrumental in putting our chemical engineering program on the map. He was also one of the leading chemical engineering researchers in the country and took what used to be a rather empirical approach to research and introduced new methods of scientific study that were adopted by chemical engineering programs across the nation."

Throughout the years, these contributions to engineering education and research were widely recognized by organizations such as the American Institute of Chemical Engineers, the American Chemical Society, the American Society of Engineering Education and the International Symposia of Chemical Reaction Engineering, an organization that named an award in his honor. The Neal R. Amundson Award is bestowed every three years to recognize a pioneer in the field — the last award was given to Luss last summer.

In addition to the NAE, Amundson was an elected member of the National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He was a recipient of the NAE Founders’ Award and holds honorary doctorates from the University of Minnesota, University of Notre Dame, University of Pennsylvania, University of Guadalajara and Northwestern University. He earned a B.S. and M.S. in chemical engineering from the University of Minnesota in 1937 and 1945, respectively; and a Ph.D. in mathematics from UM in 1947.

While recognized nationally by many organizations, he was also recognized by the institutions he served as well as his peers. At the University of Minnesota, the building that houses the Department of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science was named “Amundson Hall" in his honor and the UH Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering named their annual lecture series for him. In addition, he was honored by UH with the Esthel Farfel Award, the highest faculty award given at the university.

"He was an inspiration at many levels, said Michael Harold, M.D. Anderson Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, who earned his Ph.D. in chemical engineering from UH in 1985 under Luss. "As a professor, Neal taught me the power of applied mathematics.  As a colleague and mentor, he taught me how to judge people and how to lead them."

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Out of the 150 undergraduate researchers showcasing their posters and oral presentations, 20 will be undergraduates from the UH Cullen College of Engineering.