Dr. George W. Roberts, emeritus professor and department head of chemical and biomolecular engineering, died April 5 in Raleigh at age 71 after a short illness. He will be remembered for 21 years of service as a teacher, researcher and administrator.
In 1989, he joined the NC State’s Department of Chemical Engineering as professor and head of the department. He led an alumni relations program, restructured the corporate relations programs and recruited four new faculty members. He secured almost $500,000 in faculty recruitment and development grants, more than $250,000 in corporate grants to support graduate education and facilities improvement, and more than $1.2 million in outside grants and contracts for research on alternate fuels.
His teaching and research interests included chemical reaction engineering, applied catalysis, polymerization kinetics, polymer synthesis in supercritical carbon dioxide, synthesis of oxygenated fuels, automotive catalysts, environmentally benign chemical synthesis, multiphase reactors, and the development and commercialization of new technology.
Over the last 10 years of his career, Roberts was instrumental in the establishment of the $37 million National Science Foundation Science and Technology Center for Environmentally Responsible Solvents and Processes, launched in 1999. He led research focused on the continuous polymerization of monomers in supercritical fluids, including the design of innovative reactor configurations that enabled environmentally responsible supercritical carbon dioxide based processes for the production of commercially important materials. From 2005 until 2009, Roberts was the co-director of this very successful NSF center.
Roberts was faculty advisor to the NC State AIChE Student Chapter for 10 years. The chapter won the national AIChE Chapter of the Year Award nine times and the Marx Isaacs Award for the best Student Chapter Newsletter. Roberts was a recipient of the national Outstanding AIChE Student Chapter Advisor Award. His other awards include the NC State Alumni Association Outstanding Teacher Award, Alcoa Foundation Distinguished Engineering Research Award, the Ralph R. Teetor Award from the Society of Automotive Engineers and the Distinguished Faculty Award from Washington University.
Roberts, a Fellow of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers, was the co-inventor on 19 U.S. patents. He was author or co-author of more than 65 refereed technical publications, 11 book chapters, 130 technical presentations, and a textbook, Chemical Reactions and Chemical Reactors, now in its second printing.
Roberts earned a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering from Cornell University in 1961 and an Sc.D. degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1965. He began his professional career as an instructor in the Department of Chemical Engineering at MIT. Before joining NC State in 1989, he worked at Rohm and Haas Company, the chemical engineering department at Washington University, Engelhard Minerals and Chemicals Corporation and Air Products and Chemicals Inc.
Roberts is survived by his wife, Mary, of Raleigh; his daughter, Claire Ruliffson, of Rochester, N.Y.; his son, William, of Boston; and five grandchildren.
In lieu of flowers, Roberts expressed a wish that contributions in his memory be made to the NC State Engineering Foundation Endowment for George W. Roberts. Checks should be written to the Foundation and addressed to: NC State Engineering Foundation, Campus Box 7901, Raleigh, NC 27695-7901.