Photo of Eli Ruckenstein

Eli Ruckenstein

  • National Medal of Science
  • Engineering

For his pioneering theories of the thermodynamics of microemulsions, hydrodynamics of thin films, interfacial phenomena, nucleation, scaling of transport phenomena, and for imaginative technological and experimental achievements in the areas of catalysis polymer composites, metal-support interactions, and protein separation.

From the Iron Curtain to international success, Eli Ruckenstein defied the odds to become a pioneer in the field of chemical engineering and a world-class educator.

Ruckenstein, a mostly self-taught Romanian scientist who spent the early part of his tenure in academic isolation by the Communist Party, made advances in the areas of catalysts, colloids, phase transformations, thermodynamics and materials.

Among his career highlights: He invented a special, heat-dissipating paste used by IBM to coat its computers, and he created new catalysts able to change natural gas into alternative and useful chemicals.

But his accomplishments are not confined to his laboratory. Ruckenstein, referred by many as a “walking, interactive library,” is a true intellectual, well versed in topics ranging from world history to politics.

He is said to have a bibliographic memory. Despite publishing more than 1,000 articles over the course of five-plus decades, he’s capable of citing his individual contributions, specifying the year and journal of the publication.

And he has no plans of slowing. Ruckenstein currently serves as a professor at the University of New York at Buffalo, where he has worked since 1973, and remains dedicated to producing meaningful research and educating the next generation of scientists.

By Sydni Dunn