Ralph Landau: Engineer, Entrepreneur, Scholar
Ralph Landau is the former chairman of the Halcon SD Group, Inc. Born in Philadelphia, he received his primary and secondary education there, graduating from the University of Pennsylvania in 1937 with a bachelor of science degree in chemical engineering. Four years later he earned a doctor of science degree in that field at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
From 1941 to 1945 Dr. Landau worked as a process development engineer and head of the chemical department of Kellex Corporation, where he engaged in work on the Manhattan Project at Oak Ridge, Tennessee. After the war, he and a partner cofounded Scientific Design Co., Inc., and in the early 1950s developed an original process for the manufacture of terephthalic acid, the key ingredient of polyester fiber. This technology was later sold to Standard Oil Co. (Indiana) and formed the basis for the establishment of the AMOCO Chemicals Co., still the world's largest manufacturer of terephthalic acid.
In time, Scientific Design and its successors (Halcon International, Inc., and Halcon SD Group) became a leading source of modern petrochemical technology in more than 30 countries and owner of some of the most important technology in the chemical industry. In addition to its commercial processing developments, Halcon has designed or constructed more than 300 plants worldwide and signed license agreements with many other countries. Halcon's research and development activities have produced more than 1,400 patents worldwide.
From 1966 to 1980 Halcon participated equally with ARCO in the formation and operation of a major petrochemical company (Oxirane), based on an original process by Halcon for propylene oxide and coproducts. After achieving world sales of a billion dollars from plants
located in Texas, the Netherlands, Spain, and Japan, Halcon sold its half interest to ARCO in 1980, where it now forms the core of ARCO Chemical's expanding business.
With the sale of Halcon to the Texas Eastern Corporation in 1982, Ralph Landau assumed a second career, that of scholar. Through his long-standing interest in education and research, he has served as a trustee or a member (and chairman) of visiting advisory committees at several universities, including Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Princeton University, University of Pennsylvania, and California Institute of Technology. He was a trustee of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, a director of Alcoa, and Chairman of the American Section of the Society of the Chemical Industry. He is currently a consulting professor of economics and of chemical engineering at Stanford University and a research fellow in the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. In these two posts, as well as in the National Academy of Engineering, he is helping to develop a new academic field aimed at understanding the linkages between technology and economic policy and growth. He has coedited three books from these efforts—and several more are in preparation—and more than 120 papers.
Ralph Landau's awards include the National Medal of Technology, for which he was among the first group of recipients. He is one of only five individuals who have received both the Chemical Industry Medal and the Perkin Medal—two of the highest awards in the chemical industry, reflecting his position as a leading technological entrepreneur of this industry. He is also a recipient of the John Fritz Medal awarded by five engineering societies for scientific or industrial achievement. He is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
Since his election to the National Academy of Engineering in 1972, Ralph Landau's association with the Academy has been one of constant service and leadership. As a councillor from 1973 to 1979 and vice president since 1981, he holds the record for length of service on the Council. From 1984 to 1989 he chaired the Academy's 25th Anniversary Fund Drive. This effort, which yielded more than $46 million (including the establishment of the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Center for the National Academies of Sciences and Engineering), will enable programs that will be a lasting mark of Ralph Landau's contribution to the Academy, to his profession, and to the nation.