Memorial Tributes: National Academy of Engineering, Volume 14
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  • JAMES Y. OLDSHUE 1925–2007


    JAMES Y. OLDSHUE, an internationally recognized chemical engineer and authority on fluid-mixing technology, died on January 16, 2007, at the age of 81. He was elected to the National Academy of Engineering in 1980 for his pioneering work on the fluid mechanics and practical applications of mixing in industrial and municipal processing.

    Jim Oldshue was born in Chicago on April 18, 1925. He received his B.S. in chemical engineering in 1947, M.S. in 1949, and Ph.D. in 1951, all in chemical engineering, from the Illinois Institute of Technology. Besides being an excellent student, he played on both the basketball and baseball teams and was a member of Phi Lambda Upsilon, Alpha Chi Sigma, Pi Delta Epsilon, Sigma Xi, and Tau Beta Pi. During World War II, he interrupted his education to work at the Los Alamos Laboratory for the Manhattan Project from 1944 to 1945.

    Jim’s most important professional contributions were in the field of fluid mixing, which is fundamental tomany operations in chemical processing. For example, the quality of paint depends on the thorough mixing of the dyes and solvent; the destruction of bacteria in wastewater depends on intimate contact with chlorine; and the quality of paper depends on the uniform distribution of fibers and glue. The quality of these and many other products depends on different ingredients being uniform and in good contact with each other. Although Jim’s work was based on the scientific disciplines of fluid shear and turbulence, he excelled in designing small laboratories and pilot plants to obtain design data and analyses for scale-up to full-size plants. His work was particularly important to mineral processing, food processing, petrochemical processing, waste and water treatment, and pulp and paper processing. One of his best known inventions is the Oldshue-Rushton extraction column which can be used to transfer finely divided solids (or a chemical) from one liquid to another immiscible liquid, or from a gas to a liquid, in a baffled, mechanically agitated tank that is constructed with separate stages.

    Jim wrote more than 100 articles and reports on the design and scale-up of mixing equipment and was the owner of at least 10 patents. His most influential book was Fluid Mixing Technology (McGraw-Hill, 1983), which was widely used. His approach was based on practical applications of technologies— the kinds of mixing equipment available, their characteristics and salient performance features, and their effectiveness in different industries. He gave numerous lectures and short courses at continuing-education meetings sponsored by the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE), as well as lectures at seminars and conferences in Europe, Australia, Asia, Africa, and Latin America on the appropriate equipment and operations for mixing in various chemical processes.

    He received numerous awards for his achievements. AIChE awarded him the Founders Award, Van Antwerpen Award, and Service to Society Award. In 1986, he received the Kenneth A. Rowe Award from the American Association of Engineering Societies, and in 1991, he was honored with the Victor Marquez Award from the Inter-American Confederation of Chemical Engineering Societies.

    Jim was active in a number of professional organizations. He was president (1979), treasurer (1983–1989), director (1970–1972), and unofficial foreign secretary of AIChE, as well as chair of the organization’s Equipment Testing Procedures Committee and International Activities Committee. In 1983, for AIChE’s Diamond Jubilee, he chaired a committee that put together a list of 30 Eminent Chemical Engineers based on their contributions to the profession and to society. In 1966, he was president of the 4th World Congress of Chemical Engineering, which was held in San Diego. In addition, he was secretary general of the Inter-American Confederation of Chemical Engineering Societies and chair of the American Association of Engineering Societies (1985).

    His participation in civic societies was equally impressive. As budget chair of the International Committee of the National Board of the YMCA, he visited YMCAs around the world. Jim was a member of the First Reformed Church in Rochester, New York, and a member of the denomination’s national General Program Council, he followed in the footsteps of his ancestors who emigrated from Holland in the 1600s. He was also a member of the Rochester Rotary and chair of its International Service Committee. After retirement, he continued in active participation in the Sarasota, Florida, chapters of the YMCA and the Rotary, and taught numerous continuing education classes related to science for Oasis Education Centers. He was a members of the Siesta Key Chapel in Sarasota.

    Despite his frequent travel, Jim was actively involved in his children’s school activities, including particularly challenging homework assignments in mathematics and science. He was a regular fixture with his wife, Betty, at this sons’ athletic, music, and other school events, even during their college years when attendance occasionally required being in Rochester, New York, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and Williamstown, Massachusetts on the same weekend.

    Six feet, six inches tall with a deep, resonant voice, Dr. Oldshue was a man of imposing stature who was entrusted with many leadership responsibilities in response to his eagerness to serve and his earnest integrity. Despite his earnestness, he also had a good sense of humor and was known for telling funny stories. He loved sweets and usually read the dessert section on the menu first and composed his dinner selection around his choice of dessert. He often dressed elegantly in Hong Kong-tailored jackets and suits of various colors; on consecutive days he could be seen in suits of lime green, royal blue, or salmon red.

    A tireless traveler, he visited customers all over the world who requested advice on fluid-mixing equipment and operations; he used those opportunities to further his mission to establish and maintain bridges of international cooperation for the Reformed Church, for the YMCA, and for chemical engineering societies. He belonged to a Travelers Century Club that had a prerequisite for membership of having visited 100 countries (he visited more than 120). Long before the concept of globalization had much of a following, he was a natural ambassador to other countries and races.

    Jim worked for 42 years at the Mixing Equipment Company of Rochester, New York, rising to the rank of vice president and director of research. Then, in 1994, he became founder and president of Oldshue Technologies International. In 2005, he moved to Sarasota, Florida, where he died a few years later after a brief illness.

    He is survived by his wife of 59 years, Betty; three sons, Paul of Portland, Oregon; Richard of Glenview, Illinois; and Robert of Jamaica Plains, Massachusetts; and seven grandchildren. The Illinois Institute of Technology dedicated the Oldshue Unit Operations Laboratory in his memory on April 2008.

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