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Recognized worldwide for his expertise in thermophysics and his contributions to propulsion, combustion, and basic energy systems, Dr. Penner’s theoretical and experimental work on relaxation processes during nozzle flow, propellant burning, laminar flames, droplet burning, and ablation has profoundly influenced the nozzle design, scaling, and stabilization of liquid rockets. Since 1972–1973, when he took an around-the-world sabbatical as a Guggenheim Fellow, he has devoted much of his time to energy conservation, fossil-fuel development, fuel-cell design, and environmental issues in the United States and abroad. In 1975, he founded Energy, the International Journal. He was editor of the journal until 1998.
In 1964, Dr. Penner was founding chair of the Department of Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering Sciences at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD), the first engineering department at that school, which has by now been divided into departments of mechanical and aerospace engineering, structural engineering, and bioengineering. In addition, chemical engineering will soon move to a new Department of Nanoscience Engineering. UCSD now has the largest engineering enrollment of any UC campus. Dr. Penner has been UCSD vice chancellor of academic affairs, director of the Institute for Pure and Applied Physical Sciences, and founder and director (1973 to 1991) of the Center for Energy and Combustion Research. Prior to coming to UCSD, he was a research engineer at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a professor of jet propulsion at the California Institute of Technology, and director of the Research and Engineering Division at the Institute for Defense Analyses in Washington, D.C. In 1960, he founded the Journal of Quantitative Spectroscopy and Radiative Transfer. He remained editor of the journal until 1992.
Dr. Penner received his B.S. in chemistry from Union College in 1942 and his M.S. and Ph.D. in June 1943 and January 1946, respectively, from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He spent the war years, 1944 and 1945, working at the U.S. Army Allegany Ballistics Laboratory, where his efforts were focused on radiative transfer in rockets powered by double-base propellants.
Among Dr. Penner’s many national and international awards and honorary degrees are the prestigious Distinguished Associate Award from the U.S. Department of Energy and the Edward Teller Award for the Defense of Freedom. He is a member of the National Academy of Engineering and the International Academy of Astronautics and a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.