Lehigh University
Lehigh University

News

Prof. Wachs wins award named for catalyst of Allied air victory

Israel Wachs, the G. Whitney Snyder Professor of chemical engineering, has been chosen to receive a top catalysis award named for a scientist whose work helped turn the tide in one of the most crucial battles of World War II.

Wachs will receive the 2005 Herman Pines Award from the Catalysis Club of Chicago at the club's 2005 Spring Symposium on May 18 in Naperville, Ill. The award is given for accomplishments in catalysis research over the past five years. Wachs will give the plenary address at the symposium.

Herman Pines (1902-96) was a research scientist whose work expanded the general understanding of organic chemistry, particularly the chemistry of hydrocarbons interacting with strong acids.

He took part in a discovery that is credited with helping Britain's Royal Air Force gain supremacy over the pilots of Germany's Luftwaffe during the Battle of Britain in 1940.

According to the web site of the National Academies, Pines and two other scientists developed a 100-octane fuel that enabled British planes to achieve bursts of acceleration 50 percent greater than they had achieved several months earlier using 87-octane fuel against the Germans in France.

"With the same planes but new fuel, British pilots were able to outclimb and outmaneuver the enemy," the web site says. "The new fuels that contributed to victory came just in time from the United States, as a result of discovery and development by Universal Oil Products (now UOP Inc.) of sulfuric acid-catalyzed gasoline alkylation. Vladimir Ipatieff, Herman Pines, and Herman S. Bloch played key roles in this work."

During the Battle of Britain, which lasted from July 10 to Oct. 31, 1940, the RAF lost 915 planes to 1,733 for the Luftwaffe. The British victory was immortalized by British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who said, "Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few."

Pines himself recounted his work with Ipatieff and Bloch in a Chicago Tribune Magazine article of July 15, 1990.

The Pines award is sponsored by the Catalysis Club of Chicago and by UOP, an international company based in Illinois that provides cutting-edge technology to the petroleum-refining, gas-processing, petrochemical-production and major manufacturing industries.

Pines, a European Jew who emigrated to the U.S. in 1928, began his industrial career with UOP in 1930 and earned 145 U.S. patents over a 23-year period. He also served as professor at Northwestern University in Chicago and was a founding member of the Catalysis Club of Chicago.

Wachs last summer received the Langmuir Lecture Award from the American Chemical Society's Division of Colloids and Surface Chemistry for his work with surface metal oxide monolayers.

In 2003, he received the Award for Industrial Innovation from ACS's Southeast Region, and the Industrial Practice Catalysis and Reaction Engineering Award from the American Institute of Chemical Engineers. In 2002, he received the Clean Air Technology Award from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The awards were given in part for a catalytic process Wachs invented that converts waste gases from paper pulp mills into formaldehyde and other valuable chemicals.

Wachs, who holds two dozen patents, is a pioneer in the use of Raman spectroscopy to characterize catalysts.

Posted on Tuesday, April 05, 2005

share this story: