AMHERST, Mass. - University of Massachusetts chemical engineering professor Vladimir Haensel is scheduled to receive the Charles Stark Draper Prize in a black-tie ceremony at the Department of State in Washington, D.C., on Tues., Feb. 24.
Haensel, 83, was informed last October that he had won the prize, which is awarded by the National Academy of Engineering, and is the engineering profession’s highest honor. He is the first chemical engineer and the first university professor to receive this honor. The Draper medallion and the $450,000 honorarium will be presented by John Gibbons, President Bill Clinton’s science advisor. More than 200 of the country’s leading engineers, business leaders, academics, and government representatives are expected to attend.
Haensel is the inventor of "Platforming," a chemical engineering process essential in producing clean fuel for transportation and in supplying materials to the plastics industry. The process uses extremely small particles of platinum, one of the world’s most precious metals, to drastically speed up certain chemical reactions, efficiently converting petroleum to high-performance fuels. The technique is widely considered to be one of the most significant in chemical engineering within the past 50 years. Platforming creates cleaner-burning high-octane fuel, eliminating the need to add lead to gasoline.
Haensel was born in Germany in 1914, the son of Russian parents who returned to Russia after World War I began. The family later lived briefly in Germany, France, and Austria before coming to the United States in 1929. He was educated at Northwestern University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, then joined the UMass faculty in 1980, at age 66, following 42 years in industry. His career in industry was as a researcher and later vice president of science and technology at Universal Oil Products (UOP) in Des Plaines, Ill.
Haensel has won a slate of prestigious awards, including the Professional Progress Award of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers; the Perkin Medal in 1967; and the National Medal of Science in 1973. He has been elected to the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering, and was the first recipient of the National Academy of Sciences Award for Chemistry in Service to Society.
Haensel’s teaching career has been underscored by his mentoring of undergraduates. To mark his 80th birthday, the chemical engineering department established a scholarship fund for undergraduates, funded by UOP. He won a College Outstanding Teachers Award in 1994. He plans to retire in August of 1998.