Ruckenstein Named Recipient of National Medal of Science

Release Date: December 8, 1998

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- President Clinton announced today that Eli Ruckenstein, Ph.D., SUNY Distinguished Professor in the Department of Chemical Engineering at the University at Buffalo, has been awarded the National Medal of Science, the highest honor awarded in the U.S. for scientific achievement.

Ruckenstein, a UB faculty member since 1973 and a member of the prestigious National Academy of Engineering, is the first UB professor to receive the coveted award.

He and the eight other recipients announced today will receive their medals in January during a ceremony at the White House.

Clinton cited the recipients for "their creativity, resolve, and a restless spirit of innovation to ensure continued U.S. leadership across the frontiers of scientific knowledge."

Considered the U.S. equivalent to the Nobel Prize, the award is bestowed on individuals who have made outstanding contributions to knowledge in the chemical, physical, biological, mathematical, engineering or social sciences.

"This is one of the most prestigious honors ever received by a faculty member in the history of the University at Buffalo, and a well-deserved honor for Eli," said UB President William R. Greiner.

"He has had an extraordinary career. His selection for the National Medal of Science is a testament to the strength and national reputation of the sciences at UB. We are extremely proud of Eli and thank him for his outstanding service to the university."

Ruckenstein's research interests have covered nearly every aspect of chemical engineering, a breadth rarely seen in the work of a single scientist.

He attributes the remarkable breadth of his scientific work to his own interest in new and exciting things.

"What counts in science is novelty," he said. "I am interested mainly in new ideas, which I try to develop and, if possible, find useful applications. However, I don't squeeze them forever. This is what keeps my work exciting."

According to an often-told story, Ruckenstein's graduate students and colleagues believe that the best place to do a literature search on any topic is his office. They explain that by talking with him, they can tap into his encyclopedic knowledge of every chemical-engineering field. He is said to possess nearly-photographic recall of every journal paper he has ever read.

Ruckenstein conducts both theoretical and experimental research that not only has changed scientists' understanding of the fundamental phenomena of chemical processes, but has led to the development of enhanced research methods and new materials.

He has made groundbreaking contributions in areas including transport phenomena, catalysis, surface phenomena, nucleation, colloids, emulsions, and biocompatible surfaces and materials. They have ranged from applied mathematics and catalysis to polymers, enzyme catalysis, surface phenomena, colloids and emulsions.

"Scientists see his work in one field and think it is outstanding in and of itself, not realizing he has made equally significant contributions in several others as well," remarked Carl Lund, chair of the UB Department of Chemical Engineering.

Ruckenstein has performed pioneering work on the theory of transfer phenomena, the chemistry of supported metal catalysts, catalytic combustion, detergents and the thermodynamics of microemulsions and other complex fluids. He pioneered thermodynamic theories of microemulsions and liquid crystals that explain their stability and was one of the first to propose models for the aggregation of surfactant molecules in solution, which he later extended to other complex fluids.

His work developing theories regarding the interaction of forces between colloidal particles in colloidal dispersions led him to develop new materials with interesting thermal and rheological properties. In 1992, he was awarded a patent for some of these materials, which IBM has licensed and is using in its mainframe computers.

In addition, he has developed new protein-separation methods and new technologies to prepare membranes for separation processes that have biomedical and pharmaceutical applications.

His investigations of colloids and emulsions led to the modern theory of microemulsions.

Ruckenstein has developed separation processes that have high selectivity for aromatics, very useful industrial solvents.

He previously was a professor at Polytechnic Institute in Bucharest, the University of Delaware and Clarkson University.

He has held visiting professorships at the Catholic University in Leuven, Belgium; Technion in Haifa, Israel; Bayreuth University in West Germany, and Carnegie-Mellon University.

Ruckenstein has been honored by the American Institute of Chemical Engineers with its most prestigious awards: the Alpha Chi Sigma Award in 1977 for excellence in chemical engineering research and the Walker Award for excellence in contributions to chemical-engineering literature in 1988.

He received the 1986 Kendall Award of the American Chemical Society for creative theories and experiments in colloid and surface science and, in 1994, he received the society's Langmuir Lecture Award.

In 1996, he was awarded the American Chemical Society's E.V. Murphree Award in Industrial and Engineering Chemistry.

He received the Senior Humboldt Award of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation in West Germany in 1985 for his work related to detergents and the Creativity Award from the National Science Foundation for his work on protein separation.

Ruckenstein received bachelor and doctoral degrees in engineering from Polytechnic Institute in Bucharest.

He and his wife, Velina, who is a chemist, reside in Amherst.

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