Professor Vladimir Haensel dead at 88
By Sarah R.
Buchholz, Chronicle staff
ladimir "Val" Haensel, 88, of Amherst,
an award winning ground-breaker in petroleum-products research and
a professor emeritus of Chemical Engineering, died Dec. 15. He held
nearly 150 U.S. patents and more than 400 foreign patents.
Honored with the biennial
Charles Stark Draper Prize in 1997, the National Academy of Engineering's
equivalent of the Nobel Prize, he was best known for his development
in 1947 of "platforming," a process that uses platinum
to produce clean, inexpensive fuel and material to make plastics
from petroleum. His ideas, developed while working at Universal
Oil Products Inc. (now UPO) in Des Plaines, Illinois, directly affected
consumers by leading to the development of unleaded fuel for automobiles.
Prior to platforming, the standard process available for increasing
fuel octane involved adding lead.
made today's transportation fuel vastly more efficient, environmentally
friendly, and easier and cheaper to produce than anyone thought
possible just a few decades ago," the Draper Prize brochure
reads. "It also has had a tremendous and environmentally positive
impact on the plastics industry."
Prior to the development
of platforming, plastics makers had relied on an environmentally
toxic processing of coal tar.
A member of the National
Academy of Science and the National Academy of Engineering and the
recipient of the National Medal of Science in 1973, he also was
the first recipient of the National Academy of Science Award for
Chemistry in Service to Society and was president of the Catalysis
Society in 1978-79. He also won Professional Progress Award of the
American Institute of Chemical Engineers and a Perkin Medal.
of working in industry, he took up teaching, serving the University
between 1981 and 1998. He had begun his career as a researcher at
UOP in 1937, eventually becoming vice president of science and technology
He loved teaching,
especially undergraduates, and won a College of Engineering Outstanding
Teachers Award in 1994. The author of more than 120 scientific and
technical papers, he also gave a Chancellor's Lecture and saw Chemical
Engineering endow a scholarship fund for undergraduates, initially
funded by UOP, in his name.
He served on the Board
of Managers at the Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology and the National
Materials Advisory Board. He also was U.S. chair of the chemical
catalysis portion of the USA-USSR Joint commission on Scientific
and Technical Cooperation.
"If we are not
challenging ourselves, we're not taking advantage of what life offers,"
Haensel told the Daily Hampshire Gazette at 83. Born in Germany
to Russian parents, he came to the U.S. at age 15, not knowing any
English, but speaking Russian, German and French. A year later he
enrolled at Northwestern University, where his father taught economics.
He held a B.S.
in engineering and a Ph.D. in chemical engineering from Northwestern
University and an M.S. in chemical engineering from MIT.
"Work to produce
something important," he said in 1995. "Do something new.
Do something interesting, something that makes you want to shout
out loud when you've got it. Life is too darn amazing - and too
short - for anything less."
He leaves his wife,
Hertha Skala Haensel; a daughter, Kathee, of Virginia Beach, and
Memorial gifts may
be made to the Haensel UOP Award Fund, c/o the Engineering Development
Office, 142 Marston Hall. Checks should be made payable to the University
of Massachusetts and have "Haensel UOP Award Fund" written
on the memo line.