National Academy of Engineering Memorial Tributes Volume 18
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PublisherNational Academies Press
ReleasedOctober 1, 2014
Memorial Tributes Volume 18

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                                  MICHEL BOUDART
                                          Elected in 1979
                     “For contributions to structure, catalysis and chemical reactions surfaces.”
                                       BY ANDREW MYERS
                                    Printed with the permission of the 
                                Stanford University School of Engineering
                             SUBMITTED BY THE NAE HOME SECRETARY
                    MICHEL BOUDART, a professor emeritus of chemical 
                    engineering at Stanford University and for five decades one 
                    of the world’s leading experts in catalysis, died May 2, 2012, at 
                    an assisted living center in Palo Alto of multiple organ failure. 
                    He was 87.
                      Boudart played a crucial role in establishing the reputation 
                    of Stanford’s Chemical Engineering Department. The central 
                    theme of his research was the catalytic properties of metals, 
                    particularly small metal particles. Catalysis is the study of 
                    chemical processes by which one substance, the catalyst, 
                    promotes a reaction among other substances without itself 
                    changing. Boudart essentially brought catalysis, as a science, 
                    to chemical engineering in the United States and was an 
                    international ambassador for the field throughout his career.
                      “Michel  Boudart  was  a  world-renowned  and  influential 
                    expert in the field of catalysis who brought Stanford University 
                    chemical engineering to prominence and trained several 
                    decades of students,” said Andreas Acrivos, a fellow professor 
                    at Stanford and now professor emeritus at Stanford and City 
                    College of the City University of New York. “He left a legacy 
                    that would be difficult to replicate.”
                  26                  MEMORIAL TRIBUTES
                    As a professor, Boudart supervised what was consistently 
                 one of the larger groups of PhD candidates in the department, 
                 eventually guiding more than 70 doctoral candidates to their 
                 degrees and mentoring over 100 postdoctoral researchers and 
                 visiting scientists. The diaspora of his former students went on 
                 to lead and shape the field.
                 Top Student and World Traveler
                 Boudart was born June 18, 1924, in Brussels, Belgium. He was 
                 16 when Hitler’s Panzer divisions attacked his homeland in 
                 1940. He had been accepted to the University of Louvain, but 
                 the university was closed because of the war. To avoid being 
                 drafted or sent to German factories, he worked as a volunteer 
                 stretcher-bearer for the Red Cross. 
                    During the war Boudart had private tutoring to prepare for 
                 Louvain. When the university reopened, he graduated in three 
                 years at the top of every class, save mathematics, where he was 
                 outdone only by his dear friend, the late Professor René de 
                 Vogelaere of the University of California, Berkeley. He earned 
                 his bachelor’s degree in 1944 and his master of science in 1947. 
                 He then left Belgium to attend Princeton University, where he 
                 took his PhD in chemistry in 1950. 
                    Boudart held faculty positions at Princeton until 1961 
                 and, for three years, at Berkeley before joining the Stanford 
                 faculty in 1964. He chaired Stanford’s Department of 
                 Chemical Engineering from 1975 to 1978 and also held visiting 
                 professorships at universities in Louvain, Rio de Janeiro, 
                 Tokyo, and Paris. He became professor emeritus in 1994.
                    An avid international traveler, Boudart and his wife, 
                 Marina, boasted friends across the world. His office sported 
                 Japanese shoji screens, abstract prints, overstuffed sofas and—
                 occupying one entire wall—an immense periodic table of the 
                 elements printed in Russian, which he read with ease. He was 
                 described as a “gentleman scientist.”
                    He cited as his personal philosophy a quote from French 
                 literary theorist Roland Barthes that loosely translates as “No 
                 power, a little knowledge, a little wisdom, and as much flavor 
                 as possible.”
                                        MICHEL BOUDART                    27
                    Guiding Force
                    In  the  post–World War II  era,  the  United  States  became  the 
                    acknowledged leader in catalysis, mostly owing to advances 
                    flowing  from     American  academia  and  industry.  Boudart 
                    was at the center of it all. In a published interview, he laid 
                    out his case: Without catalysis, he said, “Our satellites could 
                    not be maneuvered, our autos would pour out all the noxious 
                    chemicals we’ve spent years guarding against, our telephone 
                    links with the rest of the world would be seriously impeded.”
                      In 1974, in the wake of the first oil crisis, Boudart and two 
                    associates founded Catalytica in Santa Clara, California. The 
                    company worked on highly complex catalytic problems for 
                    petrochemical,  chemical,  and  pharmaceutical  firms  as  well 
                    as government agencies. “[Catalytica] started in the catalysis 
                    consulting  field,  a  service  made  clearly  necessary  by  the oil
                    crisis,” Boudart said at the time. “One of the critical areas was 
                    in synthetic fuels.” The company grew over the following 
                    three decades into a number of subsidiaries.
                    Prolific Author
                    Boudart authored or coauthored more than 280 journal articles 
                    and served on the editorial boards of at least 10 journals. His 
                    book Kinetics of Chemical Processes (1991) is a standard reference 
                    and was translated into Japanese, Spanish, and French, and 
                    Kinetics  of  Heterogeneous  Catalytic  Processes (prepared with 
                    contributor Gérald Djéga-Mariadassou) was published in 
                    French in 1982 and translated to English in 1984. He was 
                    coeditor in chief of Catalysis Science and Technology, a series of 
                    11 volumes. He held four patents.
                    Recognized Leader
                    Accolades and awards were showered on Boudart throughout 
                    his life, but particularly in the later years of his career, when 
                    the scale of his impact became clear. In 1985 the University of 
                    Utah hosted a 5-day symposium on catalysis in his honor. In 
                    2005 the Journal of Physical Chemistry dedicated an entire issue 
                    to his legacy. And in 2006 the Danish company Haldor Topsøe 
                    sponsored the Michel Boudart Award for the Advancement 
                  28                  MEMORIAL TRIBUTES
                 of Catalysis, which is administered jointly by the North 
                 American Catalysis Society and the European Federation of 
                 Catalysis Societies.
                    His election to both the National Academy of Sciences and 
                 the National Academy of Engineering reflected his leadership 
                 and  scientific  merit.  He  was  also  a  fellow  of  the  American 
                 Association for the Advancement of Science, the American 
                 Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the California Academy 
                 of Sciences, and a foreign member of the Académie Royale des 
                 Sciences, des Lettres, et des Beaux-Arts de Belgique and its 
                 Royal Belgian Academy Council for Applied Sciences.
                    He received honorary doctorates from the University of 
                 Liège, the University of Notre Dame, the University of Ghent, 
                 and the Institut National Polytechnique de Lorraine. 
                    Boudart is survived by a daughter, Iris Harris, of Whittier; 
                 three sons: Marc of Aptos, Baudouin of Atherton, and Philip 
                 of Palo Alto; and grandchildren Marina and Clint Harris and 
                 Jesse, Louise, and Noella Boudart. His wife, Marina d’Haese 
                 Boudart, died in 2009. A second daughter, Dominique, died in 
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