He enrolled at the University of Pennsylvania and received his bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering (1942), followed by a master’s degree (1945) and doctorate in mechanical engineering (1950). For the year following his Ph.D., he was an assistant professor at the University of Pennsylvania. In the early 1940s he had worked as a laboratory assistant under Professor John Goff, then dean of the Towne Scientific School, with whom he developed a formulation of the thermodynamic properties of moist air that was adopted in 1947 as an international standard and retained that status for more than 30 years.
Serge joined Rohm & Haas Company as a senior research scientist in 1951. Among the broad range of studies he carried out there was the discovery (with a colleague T. G. Fox) of crystallizable polymethyl methacrylate, which led to a successful application market in the automotive industry.
In 1959 he again turned to academia as an associate professor in mechanical engineering at Northwestern University.
Serge made his next move in 1961, accepting a position in research management in the scientific laboratory of Ford Motor Company. His “tenure” at Ford lasted until 1986, when he retired. During that 25-year period, he was engaged in directing a variety of research departments involving chemical processes and devices, electrical and electronic devices, fuel sciences, polymer sciences, and chemical and materials science research, and he eventually became director of Vehicle, Powertrain and Component Research—a tribute to his broad range of technical expertise and interests.
The 1970s were turbulent times for the U.S. automotive industry, with the introduction of governmental requirements for emissions control and fuel economy standards. Serge Gratch played a key role in these areas, directing the Ford research programs on engine exhaust catalysts and being responsible for coordinating Ford’s worldwide research and development activities in this area. He also initiated a Ford program on alternate fuels (having previously initiated and led the company’s electric car research program in the 1960s). Serge often was called to testify before various governmental bodies on matters of concern to Ford in these and related areas.