The Campus Chronicle
Vol. XVIII, Issue 16
for the Amherst campus of the University of Massachusetts
December 20, 2002

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Professor Vladimir Haensel dead at 88

By Sarah R. Buchholz, Chronicle staff

Vladimir Haensel

Vladimir Haensel

V 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.

     "Platforming has 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.

     After decades 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 in 1972.

     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 grandchildren.

     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.

 
    
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