Elected in 1975
“For leadership in chemical reaction kinetics and
thermodynamics and teaching of these subjects.”
BY ALAN JACKMAN AND BEN MCCOY
SUBMITTED BY THE NAE HOME SECRETARY
JOE M. SMITH, professor of chemical engineering emeritus at the University of California, Davis, died at his home in Davis on June 7, 2009, at the age of 93. He was among a handful of educators who truly blazed new trails for chemical engineering in the 20th century. His groundbreaking textbooks on thermodynamics and kinetics have had profound influences.
Joe was born in Sterling, Colorado, on February 14, 1916. His family moved to Long Beach, California, when he was very young, and he was educated in the Long Beach public schools. At Long Beach Polytechnic High School, influenced by two outstanding teachers, he excelled at math and chemistry. Neither of his parents had a college education but his mother, in particular, was eager for Joe to attend college. When he was admitted to the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), his parents moved to Pasadena so that he could live at home and afford to attend college.
The decision to major in chemical engineering was the result of a process of elimination. Joe was not interested in mechanical drawing, civil engineering, or physics, but he loved chemistry and mathematics. So in his junior year he declared a major in applied chemistry, the name that Caltech used for its undergraduate chemical engineering program in those days, although it already offered graduate degrees in chemical engineering. Joe remembered the Caltech program