UC Berkeley News


National Medal of Science for chemical engineering prof

| 16 February 2005

John Prausnitz (Photo courtesy College of Chemistry)
The nation's highest scientific honor, the National Medal of Science, was awarded this week to John M. Prausnitz, professor of chemical engineering at Berkeley and faculty senior scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

Prausnitz was one of eight recipients of the 2003 medal, to be presented March 14 at a White House ceremony. Other University of California recipients of the medal are J. Michael Bishop, professor and chancellor at UC San Francisco, and R. Duncan Luce, Distinguished Research Professor of Cognitive Science and Research Professor of Economics at UC Irvine.

An applied physical chemist, Prausnitz has developed molecular thermodynamics - an understanding of the way molecules interact in fluids and solids - for the design of separation operations in large chemical plants to make them more efficient, safe, and environmentally friendly, and to reduce energy consumption. The concepts and computer programs he developed have been key to the design of numerous large-scale chemical plants, including petroleum refineries and facilities for the manufacture of polymers, plastics, and pharmaceuticals and the industrial-scale production of oxygen from air.

Prausnitz joined the chemical engineering faculty in 1955, working closely with colleagues in the College of Chemistry to adapt modern chemical ideas to the chemical industry. He became one of the main architects of the modern design of chemical-manufacturing processes in the United States and abroad, moving away from trial-and-error methods to the use of powerful and quantitative prediction methods.

Prausnitz has recorded his techniques in two much-used books, the textbook Molecular Thermodynamics of Fluid Phase Equilibrium, now in its third edition, and the reference book The Properties of Gases and Liquids, now in its fifth edition. He also has mentored a generation of engineers and industrialists, supervising 75 Ph.D. students and 35 postdoctoral fellows during his nearly 50-year career. A member of the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering as well as the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, he has authored or co-authored more than 600 publications and three pioneering books used by chemical engineers throughout the world.

The National Medal of Science honors individuals in a variety of fields for pioneering scientific research that has led to a better understanding of the world around us, as well as to the innovations and technologies that give the United States its global economic edge.