Westwater developed techniques for high- and low-speed photography through a microscope. In subsequent years, he expanded upon these techniques to study nucleate, transition, and flow boiling, flow and drop-wise condensation, freezing, the formation of Bernard cells, and the nature of nucleation sites for boiling and condensation.
These experiments are widely considered to be engineering classics that provided a fundamental understanding of the physical processes governing both boiling and condensation and formed a basis for mathematical development. His work is recognized worldwide as both fundamentally significant and vital to many commercial and other applications.
In 1965, Westwater published the first in a series of papers showing how properly designed fins could greatly increase heat-transfer rates during boiling. This led to experiments showing that remarkable heat duties, as high as 120,000 kw/m3, could be obtained in miniature fins. Westwater’s study of two-phase flow patterns in small passages pioneered the current interest in compact heat exchangers. With his 41 doctoral students, he authored more than 110 publications and produced 19 research motion pictures.
Jim was elected to the National Academy of Engineering in 1974. He also received much well-deserved recognition, including the 1971 Max Jakob Memorial Award jointly from the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE) and American Society of Mechanical Engineers, the 1966 William H. Walker Award of the AIChE, and the 1974 Vincent Bendix Award of the American Society for Engineering Education. He was selected as one of 30 distinguished chemical engineers who were recognized on the 75th anniversary of the AIChE.
Westwater’s impact at the local, national, and international levels was not just a reflection of his research activities. He was also chairman of the Heat Transfer and Energy Conversion Division of the AIChE in 1963 and chair of the 3rd International Heat Transfer Conference in 1966. From 1968 to 1970, he was a director of AIChE, and he was awarded the 1984 Founders Award from that organization for the advancement of chemical engineering.