'Father of chemical engineering' turns 90, still teaching at UH


Neal Amundson, mind behind the math to help nuclear subs keep their cool, honored with lecture series

Thanks to the work of one University of Houston professor, scientists have a way of keeping nuclear submarines safe following a power failure.

This is just one of many innovations from the past seven decades that earned Neal Amundson, UH Cullen Distinguished Professor of Chemical Engineering and Mathematics, credit as the "Father of Modern Chemical Engineering." Amundson, who turns 90 this year, will be honored with a three-day lecture series Dec. 12-14 in the Shamrock Ballroom at the Hilton UH Hotel and Conference Center.

"Dr. Amundson rapidly altered and advanced the field of chemical engineering by being the first to incorporate advanced mathematics into chemical engineering research and education," said John Bear, dean of the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics (NSM). "He has had an unprecedented reach of influence on future generations of chemical engineers."

Hosted by NSM's mathematics department and the Cullen College of Engineering's chemical engineering department, the event will consist of three interrelated lectures presented by Martin Feinberg, professor of chemical engineering and mathematics at Ohio State University. Through three lectures – "The Strange Relationship of Mathematics and Chemistry," "Understanding Bistability in Complex Enzyme-Driven Reaction Networks" and "An Unsolved Problem in Chemical Engineering" – Feinberg will discuss Amundson's contributions to the development of innovative mathematical methods applied to complex problems in engineering and chemistry.

Among his important intellectual contributions, Amundson was the first person to apply the principles of non-linear mechanics to lumped constant chemical reactor systems, enabling him to explain chemical reactor instability, oscillatory behavior and parametric sensitivity. Amundson also established the field of chemical reactor engineering, being the first to couple reaction with diffusion. With the threat of the essential use of coal, Amundson initiated a systematic and exhaustive development of the gasification of coal char, the products of which would have been used in fuel synthesis. Through this, he realized that the physical geometry of convective natural circulation could be applied to the emergency cooling of nuclear submarines in case of power failure. He constructed a physical and mathematical model and participated in the design of that system in the first nuclear submarine – the Nautilus.

A three-time graduate of the University of Minnesota, Amundson received his B.S. in chemical engineering in 1937, M.S. in chemical engineering in 1941 and Ph.D. in mathematics in 1945. Upon receiving his degrees, he remained at the university teaching both chemical engineering and mathematics, as well as serving 25 years as head of the chemical engineering department. He joined UH's chemical engineering department in 1977, served as provost and vice president of UH from 1987-89 and is still teaching today. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering and American Academy of Arts and Science. The chemical engineering building is named Amundson Hall at the University of Minnesota.

WHO: Neal Amundson – "Father of Modern Chemical Engineering"

WHAT: Three-day Lecture Series Honoring Amundson's 90th Birthday

WHEN: 3-4 p.m., Dec. 12-14

WHERE: Hilton UH Hotel and Conference Center, Shamrock Ballroom (Entrance 1)

Source: Eurekalert & others

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