UC Berkeley News


Donald Hanson

31 January 2007

Donald Hanson

Donald N. Hanson, professor emeritus of chemical engineering, died Jan. 11 in Orinda following a year of illness and hospice care. He was 88.

A renowned expert on chemical-distillation processes, Hanson was the last surviving member of the original group of faculty that launched the chemical-engineering program at Berkeley after World War II. The others included LeRoy Bromley, Charles Tobias, Theodore Vermeulen, Charles Wilke, and Campbell Williams.

Hanson specialized in the computational issues involved in distillation processes to separate chemicals, such as various hydrocarbon fractions from petroleum. He later focused on new methods for separation. Hanson wrote some 40 articles, co-authored two books, and was co-inventor - sometimes with department colleagues - on several patents.

"Hanson's research on computational methods for distillation processes was both critical and timely," said John Prausnitz, professor emeritus of chemical engineering and one of the many researchers influenced by Hanson. "His pioneering monograph on design of distillation processes appeared around 1960 when large-scale use of computers in the chemical industries was in its infancy."

In addition, said Prausnitz, "Don was a beloved professor whose benevolent, often self-sacrificing devotion to students and colleagues was remarkable. He was the most generous colleague I have experienced during my many years at Berkeley."

Hanson taught a variety of courses over the years, including Elements of Chemical Process Analysis and Separation Processes. In 1986 he received the coveted Distinguished Teaching Award. In accepting the award, Hanson, who also mentored more than three dozen graduate students, wrote, "The first criterion for successful teaching must be the desire to pass on knowledge - with an acceptable payment for the effort being little more than the satisfaction of seeing the transfer take place."

Hanson was born in Minooka, Ill., on Aug. 3, 1918, and grew up in Geneva, Ill. He earned his B.S. from the University of Illinois in 1940, and his M.S. in 1941 and Ph.D. in 1943 from the University of Wisconsin, Madison.

Before beginning his 40-year career at Berkeley in 1947, he served as an instructor at the University of Wisconsin and at Kansas State College. He and his wife of 63 years, Sally, met at the University of Wisconsin when she was an undergraduate and he was teaching as a newly minted Ph.D. He also spent two years as an engineer working for Shell Development Company in the Bay Area.

Hanson earned tenure at Berkeley in 1953 and was promoted to full professor in 1958. Hanson chaired the chemical-engineering department from 1963 to 1966 and served for many years as its director of graduate admissions.

He was a principal investigator at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and consulted for the Lawrence Livermore and Los Alamos national laboratories as well as Bechtel Corporation and Beckman Instruments. From 1956 to 1958 he was a visiting professor at the University of the Philippines in Quezon City, near Manila.

A member of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers and the American Chemical Society, Hanson had many nonprofessional interests as well, including reading, travel, art, and craftsmanship. He and his brother-in-law built the family cabin at Lake Tahoe in 1948.

In addition to his wife, he is survived by his sons, Charles of Walnut Creek and David of Davis; daughter Kristin, of Bend, Ore.; and seven grandchildren.

In lieu of flowers, donations in Hanson's memory may be made to Hospice and Palliative Care of Contra Costa County; for information, visit www.hospicecc.org/FoundationDonations/Donations/tabid/614/Default.aspx.

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