Memorial Tributes: National Academy of Engineering, Volume 14
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  • Gregory, John
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  • KENNETH J. IVES 1926–2009


    KEN IVES, who died suddenly at age 82, on September 8, 2009, was an internationally recognized authority in the field of drinking water treatment. His research has had an enormous influence on the principles and practice of water filtration and gave him an unrivaled reputation in the subject. Ken was elected as a foreign associate of the National Academy of Engineering (NAE) in 2003.

    Ken was born in 1926 in Kentish Town, London, and was educated at William Ellis School. During World War II, he was evacuated to Leighton Buzzard, a town about 40 miles northwest of London, which was relatively safe from bombing raids. Coincidentally, Leighton Buzzard is well known for its sand quarries, which are an important source of sand for filters in water treatment plants. In 1945 Ken entered University College London (UCL) to study civil engineering. He maintained an association with UCL for the rest of his life. After graduating with a B.Sc. in engineering in 1948, he spent seven years as an engineer with the Metropolitan Water Board (MWB) in London. At MWB he carried out research on the removal of algae from reservoir water, and this work formed the basis of his Ph.D. degree, which was supervised at UCL. Several publications on his algal research appeared, and these have had a high impact on later studies in this area. These early papers are still being quoted by scientists around the world.

    After his time at the water board, Ken returned to UCL as a lecturer in the civil and municipal engineering department in 1955. Promotion to reader followed in 1963 and to professor of public health engineering in 1967. He became Chadwick Professor and Head of Department in 1984, a position he held until his retirement in 1992. He was a superb teacher at all levels, and his lectures to undergraduates were very popular. Ken played a major role in the general life of UCL, serving on many important college committees and as dean of students for two years. He fully committed himself to these tasks and gave them a lot of time and attention. He was elected a fellow of UCL in 1996 and continued to be active in the social life of the college, notably as a frequent contributor to the discussions of the Natural Sciences Club. His last visit to UCL was on the day before he died.

    Ken Ives began his fundamental research in water filtration in the 1950s, and he pursued this topic during a sabbatical year at the Harvard School of Public Health, with Gordon Fair, in 1958–1959. His year at Harvard was made possible by the award of a Fulbright fellowship. Ken was a pioneer in the use of computers to model the behavior of sand filters, which were (and still are) a very important part of conventional drinking water treatment. As a result of this work, Ken showed that traditional deep-sand filters were inherently inefficient, with most of the impurities being removed in just the top layers, so that a filter would become clogged when much of its potential removal capacity remained unused. This led to the development of new designs, such as upflow or stratified filters, which gave much better performance.

    At UCL Ken also carried out detailed experimental filtration studies, using specially designed columns that enabled water samples to be taken at many points throughout the depth of the filter and pressure profiles to be recorded. With this approach, he carried out investigations on the mechanisms of particle capture by grains in a filter bed, both theoretically and experimentally. Later, he used advanced fiber optic techniques and high-speed video recording to directly observe particle movements within the pores of a filter bed.

    As well as these fundamental studies, Ken worked on more practical aspects of water filtration. His experimental columns were adapted for use in pilot-scale investigations in water treatment plants, and he designed simple test equipment for lab-scale filter testing. He was also interested in low-cost water filtration methods, applicable to developing countries. One example was a “pebble-matrix filter” for the treatment of highly turbid waters, common in monsoon regions. This acts as a very effective pretreatment unit that greatly reduces the load on subsequent treatment stages. The process is now being used successfully in Sri Lanka.

    Although Ken is best known for his filtration research, he worked on several other aspects of water quality and treatment. His work on coagulation and sedimentation processes is a significant example, and he produced a useful model for the behavior of a common type of water treatment clarifier. He also carried out more general studies, such as a feasibility study of dual water supplies and optimization of treatment plant operations.

    Much of Ken’s research at UCL was carried out with the help of several generations of research students, many of whom went on to make very successful careers in industry or academia. His reputation enabled him to attract very able research colleagues and a succession of distinguished international academic visitors to his lab. His students and colleagues will remember him with gratitude, admiration, and affection.

    In 1964 Ken was a (U.S.) National Science Foundation senior visiting fellow at the University of North Carolina. Later, he had a long association with the Delft University of Technology, Netherlands, as a visiting professor.

    Ken was invited to many major national and international conferences, often as keynote or plenary lecturer. He formed lifelong friendships with many overseas colleagues and became very well known in the worldwide water treatment community. He organized a series of NATO Advanced Study Institutes in Cambridge between 1973 and 1982, which became highly influential. The first of these resulted in a book, The Scientific Basis of Filtration (Noordhof, Leyden, 1975), that became known to some of his colleagues as the “Gospel According to St. Ives.” For many delegates these meetings proved to be hugely important to their careers and an informal “old boy” network still exists of people who will be eternally grateful to Ken for bringing them together in this way.

    From quite early in his career, Ken was increasingly involved in national and international aspects of water supply and treatment. He was a consultant and expert adviser to the World Health Organization (1966–1992) and made many visits to developing countries to advise on water supply and treatment. He was active in the International Water Association (IWA) and was editor-in-chief of its journal Water Research from 1983 to 1995. He also served as regional editor for the United Kingdom, a role in which he continued until 2001. Ken served on the Badenoch Committee on Cryptosporidium in Water Supplies (1989–1995).

    In 1994 he headed an official inquiry into the Severn River pollution incident and its impact on public water supplies. Ken received numerous medals and awards, including the Gold Medal of the Filtration Society (of which he was a founder member and past chairman) in 1983, the S. H. Jenkins award from the International Association on Water Pollution Research and Control (now IWA) in 1990 and the Simon W. Freese Award and Lecture from the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) in 1994.

    He was a fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering and of the Institution of Civil Engineers and held life memberships in ASCE, the American Water Works Association, and the Water Environment Federation. In 1996 he was honored by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II with the award of Commander of the Order of the British Empire for services to the environment. His election as foreign associate of NAE in 2003 was for his contributions to the theory and practice of water treatment technology throughout the world.

    Outside of his academic and professional life, Ken was involved in the Boy Scout movement and served as a magistrate for some time. In his last few years Ken again lived in Leighton Buzzard and played an active part in the social life of the town, including as a member of the local U3A (University of the Third Age) group. During this time he gave regular talks to school children at the Imperial War Museum, in London, recounting his experiences as a wartime evacuee. He loved traditional jazz and was a devotee of ballroom dancing. He was very sociable, and his many friends will miss him greatly. Ken is survived by his wife Brenda, whom he married in 1952, and his daughter Cherrill Theobald and son Matthew.

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