Every time you relax in an air-conditioned building or drive your car, you are taking advantage of a phenomenon known to scientists as heat transfer.
The process of exchanging warm air for cool to refrigerate a room is relatively simple, says John C. Chen, the Carl R. Anderson Professor of chemical engineering. By contrast, 20 to 30 steps, each dependent on heat transfer, are needed in order to extract oil from the ground and refine it into gasoline.
In 1966, Chen developed the "Chen Method" of predicting the rate at which heat must be transfered to liquid to make it boil. The method has become the standard for designing vapor-liquid boiling systems used in the chemical, power, refrigeration, petroleum, nuclear and gas industries. It has been cited hundreds of times in technical articles and textbooks.
Since that early discovery, Chen has continued to make seminal contributions to various aspects of heat transfer science and technology. Last month, at the 12th International Heat Transfer Conference in Grenoble, France, Chen received the 2001 Max Jakob Memorial Award, the top international prize for achievements in heat transfer. He became only the fourth chemical engineer in 40 years to win the award.
Jakob, a pioneer in the fields of thermodynamics, heat transfer and fluid flow, was born in Germany in 1879 and died in the U.S. in 1955. The recipient of the Jakob Award is chosen by committees representing the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) and the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE). Chen is a fellow in both organizations.
At the conference, Chen gave an address titled "Surface Contacts – Significance for Multi-Phase Heat Transfer." The one-hour talk earned a standing ovation from 800 international delegates representing 43 countries.
Chen, a former dean of the P.C. Rossin College of Engineering and Applied Science, was praised by award nominators not only for his research in boiling but also for his more recent work in other areas of heat transfer.
"John Chen has been the pioneer and the unquestioned leader in the world on boiling heat transfer and other areas involving two-phase flow and heat transfer," said Raymond Viskanta, the W.F.M. Goss Distinguished Professor of Engineering at Purdue, who won the Jakob Award in 1986.
"John has published several seminal papers on radiative transfer in participating media, including prediction of absorption and scattering characteristics of particles. These papers are classical and continue to be cited 30 years after they were first published."
"Professor Chen’s correlation for forced convective boiling published in 1966 is still used universally and must be implemented thousands of times every day in industrial design," wrote Geoff Hewitt, professor emeritus of chemical engineering at London’s Imperial College of Science, Technology and Medicine, and a member of the Royal Society of London.
Arthur E. Bergles, the Clark and Crossan Professor of Engineering Emeritus in the department of mechanical engineering, aeronautical engineering and mechanics at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, said, "It is only fitting that Dr. Chen be given the Jakob Award for a lifetime of truly excellent work in, and conscientious service to, heat transfer.
"His careful experiments, profound physical interpretations, and useful correlations have contributed immensely to the theory and practice of boiling heat transfer, particularly convective boiling in tubes, dispersed-flow film boiling in tubes, and falling-film evaporation outside of tubes."
In a study done in the mid-1990s for the Electric Power Research Institute, Chen concluded that new refrigerants with little or no ozone-depleting chlorine could perform as well in some heat-transfer tests as the chlorine-based refrigerants whose production has been banned.
Chen’s other awards include two top honors from Germany – the Alexander von Humboldt Senior Research Award and the Max Planck Research Prize. From AIChE, he has received the D.Q. Kern Award for research with practical impact, the Heat Transfer and Energy Conversion Division Award, and the Particle Technology Forum’s Thomas Baron Award. From ASME, he has received the Melville Medal for archival literature.
Chen, who has taught undergraduate and graduate courses in chemical engineering and mechanical engineering throughout his 32-year career at Lehigh, has received the university’s Hillman Award for excellence in teaching, scholarship and service, and its Libsch Award for distinction in research.