Memorial Tributes: National Academy of Engineering, Volume 18
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  • Marrone, Paul
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  • CHARLES E. TREANOR 1924–2012


    CHARLES TREANOR, pioneer in fluid dynamics and hypersonic research, died at age 87 in Rochester, New York, on May 27, 2012. He was born in Buffalo, NY, on October 22, 1924, one of nine children in a hard-working Irish family, and lived most of his life in the Buffalo area, moving to Rochester in 2008 to be near family.

    Chuck, as he was known, attended Catholic grammar and high school and after graduation worked briefly at a local deli several hours a day, seven days a week. As World War II became larger in scope with United States participation, he entered the Air Force and was sent to Yale University for training in meteorology. But the military had a greater need for radio technicians, and he was posted to the University of Minnesota to study radio operation and repair.

    He served in the China-Burma-India Theater and, with a group involved in the early use of helicopters for rescue work, helped rescue pilots who had crashed in the Himalaya Mountains. After leaving the Air Force, he returned to the University of Minnesota, where he earned his bachelor’s degree in physics in 1948. Upon returning home, he attended the University at Buffalo (UB), where he earned his PhD in physics in 1956.

    His thesis on molecular radiation and spectroscopy laid the groundwork for his future technical contributions. Chuck began his professional career at the Cornell Aeronautical Laboratory (CAL) in Buffalo, one of the elite not-for-profit research laboratories in the United States, and spent his entire career there and at its successor entities, including Calspan. He joked that his early analytical work could be described as “subsonic and unclassified,” as he investigated areas such as raindrops interacting with airfoils and air flow in ducts.

    His physics background led him to the new and challenging field of high-temperature chemically reacting flows and molecular radiation that accompanied hypersonic and space-oriented research in the United States at the time. Under the direction of Abraham Hertzberg, the Aerodynamic Research Department at CAL became a world leader in hypersonic research with the development of short-duration test facilities (i.e., shock tubes and shock tunnels).

    Chuck, now a leader in theoretical and analytical studies, partnered with Walter Wurster and the pioneering experimental staff at CAL to investigate high-temperature flows. He authored some 100 papers and reports on molecular radiation and excitation mechanisms for such species as O2, N2, NO, CO, and CO2 and ions important in high-temperature airflows and planetary atmospheres.

    Of particular interest were the mechanisms for the interaction of vibrational excitation with dissociation in diatomic molecules. He developed the CVD and CVDV (coupled vibration-dissociation-vibration) models to accurately describe experimental results from strong shock waves in various gases. The numerical techniques developed by Chuck were incorporated in computer programs to predict very complex thermophysical and thermochemical flows, and a number of these important programs were distributed to approximately 100 research laboratories throughout the international research community.

    As part of this work, Chuck developed a numerical integration technique for coupled differential equations with greatly different time constants, allowing rapid solutions for very complex gases with many species and excitation mechanisms. This work was extended to include gas-dynamic lasers and solar-powered lasers. The physics community has referred to aspects of his contributions to the understanding of the inner workings of excited molecules as the Treanor distribution and Treanor equation.

    Chuck’s analyses are critical for predicting modern aerospace flows such as fluid flow and radiation (vehicle reentry from lunar mission); determination of shock-wave strength and location (combustion efficiency in scramjet-powered vehicles); exhaust nozzle performance (rocket engine efficiency); energy distribution in key species (advanced molecular lasers); and species identification in specialized flows (manufacture of molecules in shock-wave-induced flow devices).

    His work integrating fluid flows with molecular excitation and radiation mechanisms gives confidence in predicting such highly diverse flows. Chuck was a leader in both basic and applied research, and this leadership manifested itself in a number of ways. As vice president/chief scientist for the corporation at CAL/Calspan, he continued his own technical work and oversaw both the quality of ongoing scientific research and the development of new research programs.

    Recognizing the importance of the long-standing relationship between CAL and the UB School of Engineering, he worked to strengthen the ties as an adjunct professor and advocate for student participation in CAL’s unique laboratories and programs. When CAL was purchased by Arvin Industries of Indiana, Chuck was concerned that the loss of the large nonprofit research center would also mean the loss of an important “industry spin-off” center in western New York.

    Over the preceding 25 years former CAL employees had harnessed research program ideas and techniques to create more than 20 local companies, a number of which have grown much larger than CAL/Calspan and achieved worldwide recognition. Chuck worked with the presidents of the University at Buffalo, Arvin Industries, and the new Arvin/Calspan to start an independent nonprofit organization to continue this critical role in western New York. The Calspan-UB Research Center (CUBRC), formed in 1983, assumed responsibility for a number of the big CAL laboratories and was one of the first laboratories in the United States to combine an educational institution and a for-profit organization.

    New local companies are being established involving engineering students in its advanced facilities. Chuck was the first director/president of CUBRC and his technical and management leadership nurtured its formative growth and early success. He retired from that position in 1988. He was an inspiration to fellow researchers and encouraged them toward advanced education, backing a number of PhD students at several universities (he was a visiting professor at Stanford University in the late 1960s).

    He was a leading member of professional organizations, including Sigma Xi. He was a fellow of the American Physical Society (APS), chairman of its Division of Fluid Dynamics, associate editor of the Physics of Fluids journal, and, as cochair of the 1988 Annual APS Fluid Dynamics Conference, a central figure in attracting this prestigious conference to western New York, bringing international researchers and prominence to UB. He was also a fellow of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) and chaired its Technical Committee on Plasma Dynamics. Chuck Treanor received many honors during his career. He was elected to the National Academy of Engineering in 1990.

    He received the AIAA Fluid Dynamics Award and the AIAA Niagara Frontier Section Outstanding Aerospace Achievement Award. He was an early recipient of the Clifford C. Furnas Memorial Award for distinctions that bring honor to UB, and he was elected to the Western New York Aviation and Space Hall of Fame in recognition of his technical accomplishments and the impact of his work in advancing the aviation and space sciences.

    Chuck balanced his considerable technical skills and achievements with love of family and a lifelong passion for baseball. He inherited his love of the game from his father, who played third base for the Pullman Corporation baseball team, and he was a faithful season ticket holder for the AAA Buffalo Bisons in the New York Mets farm system. From his vantage point behind home plate he meticulously scored each inning. For a number of years, he and his wife Ruth visited the team’s spring training camp in Bradenton, Florida.

    Chuck also treasured his Irish heritage and ancestral home. He was a founding member and president of the western New York chapter of the Ancient Order of the Hibernians. For many years, he wrote a column on Irish politics for the Irish Times. He loved Irish tunes and could be heard singing accompanied by his brother James Treanor, MD, on the piano. Perhaps his greatest Irish contribution to western New York is the beautiful monument to the men and women who came to Buffalo in the wake of the Irish potato famine of the mid-19th century.

    The monument, a central obelisk and family-named bricks, is surrounded by 32 stones representing the 32 counties of Ireland, each stone selected from the quay in County Cork where the ships left the Irish shore and headed for America. It is situated at the newly developed downtown Buffalo Harbor and Waterfront. Chuck was the central figure in the project, heading a large fundraising effort and traveling to Ireland to help select the stones and arrange transport to Buffalo.

    Chuck Treanor was a quiet man, and a humble one, with a powerful intellect and an instinctive feel for the physics behind observed phenomena. He enjoyed debating technical points and surrounded himself with highly capable people. He was a true leader in both the technical and managerial arenas, and in his quiet way delivered thoughtful advice on all topics. He made all of us better scientists and persons. He will be missed by all who knew and worked with him, and by all others who benefited from his life. Ruth died in 2003. Chuck is survived by one daughter and four sons.

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