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Lecture Series Honors Legacy of Professor Dan Luss

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January 29, 2009-Houston-
At every university, there are faculty members who inspire their peers and make permanent marks on their students. Few, however, manage to maintain superior research, reputations and relationships with the longevity and consistency of the University of Houston’s professor Dan Luss.

Luss, whose legacy will be honored this week at a dinner and lecture series marking his 70th birthday, has spent more than four decades researching and teaching chemical engineering at UH’s Cullen College of Engineering.

“There is no greater satisfaction than being honored by your colleagues, especially as this will be a very distinguished group,” Luss said. “It is also very pleasing to be able to meet many ex-students, many of whom have come from out of town, and to find out about their achievements and accomplishments.”

Luss’ colleagues– two of them his former students – say he’s a tireless mentor and natural leader.

Luss, who led UH’s chemical engineering department for more than 20 years, laid the foundation to make the program one of the best in the nation, according to professor Ramanan Krishnamoorti, who today heads up the department, which now also covers biomolecular engineering.

“Much like his research, Dan has not feared to ask hard questions and challenge the accepted ideas in building a great academic program,” Krishnamoorti said. “And these insightful introspections have created the legacy of the research, students and an academic department that reflect the ideals that he has brought to bear amongst several generations of UH students, faculty and the chemical engineering community.”

Luss waxes poetic when describing the evolution of the department throughout his tenure at UH.

“When I look back, I realize that we are like a phoenix – that magical bird that periodically is consumed by fire, rising renewed from the ashes to start a new and more active life,” he said. “Our research interests and activities, as well as our teaching program, have drastically changed over the years.  We have changed the department name but continue to conduct frontier research and educate students who become leaders in both industry and academia.”

Colleagues say Luss always has been driven. Born in Tel Aviv, Israel, he earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Technion, the Israel Institute of Technology, in the early 1960s. He earned a Ph.D. from the University of Minnesota and became an assistant professor there in 1966. He joined UH as an assistant professor in 1967.

“He was hired as a young gun, one of the top candidates that year for academic hires,” said UH professor Michael Harold.  “He came from Minnesota with much acclaim, and he got started quickly.”

Luss was promoted to full professor in five years – about half the amount of time it usually takes.

He first served as chairman from 1975 to 1995 and from 1999 to 2000. He has instructed countless courses and completely or jointly supervised nearly 75 Ph.D. and master’s theses.

Harold and UH professor Vemuri Balakotaiah were Ph.D. students under Luss’ direction in the early 1980s.

Harold, who was hired back to UH in 2000 as department chair and served until last year, said Luss opened many doors for him. “As an adviser, he really brought me to the next level and invested in me. That, in turn, boosted my confidence, and I knew that I could compete with anyone in this field. When you say you’re a student of Dr. Luss, that turns heads, so to speak. For that, I’m very grateful.”

In fact, it was Luss who influenced Harold’s decision to pursue a career in academia. “I saw the impact that you can have as a professor, from a research and teaching standpoint,” Harold said.

These days, Luss typically teaches one course per semester. One in particular, which covers reaction engineering, has been on his calendar since his days as an assistant professor, Harold said.

Celebrated UH researcher and national academy member Neal Amundson, known as the “father of chemical engineering,” was Luss’ Ph.D adviser back in Minnesota and had a major impact on his professional career.

“He taught me not only how to conduct research and select suitable research goals but also how a good department should operate,” Luss said. “My greatest accomplishment as a chair was convincing him to join UH. He has been a great asset to our department, as well as to the math department, and helped both to develop and recruit outstanding faculty members.”

Thus far, Luss has garnered more than $6.7 million in funding, either as principal investigator or collaborator. He has published more than 290 journal articles and was named to the National Academy of Engineering in 1984.

Focusing on various aspects of chemical reactors’ design, operation and control, Luss’ research group develops policies that prevent chemical reactors from “runaways,” or rapid, uncontrollable temperature increases that may lead to explosions. Other research projects have aimed to increase the efficiency of chemical processes and centered on the large-scale synthesis of advanced ceramics, such as superconducting materials.

“He’s always had extremely high standards and a tenacity second to none,” said Harold, adding that Luss juggled the competing demands of his research and the department with great skill.

Balakotaiah agreed. “He is not only an excellent researcher but also an outstanding administrator who has utmost respect for scholarship,” he said.

Luss has served as a member of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers’ council and president of the International Symposium on Chemical Reaction Engineering, U.S.A. He is editor of the Plenum Book series in chemical engineering, editor of Review in Chemical Engineering and a member of the editorial board of IEC Research and Catalysis Reviews-Science and Engineering.

He has received several American Institute of Chemical Engineers awards, including a fellowship, the Wilhelm Award, the Professional Progress Award, the Allan P. Colburn Award and eight Best Paper Awards.

WHAT: Reception, dinner and lecture series honoring UH professor Dan Luss
WHEN: Reception begins at 6:15 p.m., Thursday (Feb. 5), with dinner following; lecture series runs from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m., Friday (Feb. 6)
WHERE: Reception and dinner to be held at the JW Marriot Houston, 5150 Westheimer; lecture series to be held at the UH Hilton and Conference Center; University of Houston Entrance 1
WHO: Speakers Friday include Michael Ramage, Ph.D., the former executive vice president of the ExxonMobil Research and Engineering Company; Theodore T. Tsotsis, Ph.D., of the University of Southern California; and Michael J. Economides, Ph.D., a UH professor and the managing partner of a petroleum engineering and petroleum strategy consulting firm.
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