Arvind Rajendran vividly recalls his surprise the first time he met the man known as a “global legend” in adsorption engineering. It was July 1999 and Rajendran’s masters’ advisor had secured him a coveted spot in Doug Ruthven’s lab at the University of Maine. Rajendran was more than a little intimidated to meet the author of Principles of Adsorption and Adsorption Processes, which was, and still is, one of the most cited reference works in the field.
“I was very aware I was meeting a legend,” remembers Rajendran, now a professor at the University of Alberta. “And then there he was at the airport to meet me in his kaki shorts and trademark kaki hat. It was a lesson to me: you could be a very important scientist, but you still take care of your students.”
Ruthven was a professor of chemical engineering at the University of New Brunswick from 1966 to 1995 and at the University of Maine from 1995 to 2018. One of the leading pioneers in adsorption science and engineering, Ruthven passed away on September 23 at the age of 82.
He published more than 250 peer-reviewed papers, served as editor of the journal Chemical Engineering Science, co-authored five books that continue to be the primary references in the areas of adsorption engineering and diffusion in solids, and was a member of the editorial board of five other leading scientific journals. He taught several undergraduate and graduate courses, supervised 40 graduate theses and 17 postdoctoral fellows.
Ruthven was also past president of the International Adsorption Society and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada. He received the Max Planck Research Award, an award from the German Humboldt Foundation and Max-Planck Society, the Century of Achievement Award from the Canadian Society of Chemical Engineering, and an ScD from the University of Cambridge.
All of which means Ruthven was a very busy man. Rajendran remembers his mentor’s prodigious work load and travel schedule, but says he could be counted on to read and comment on his students’ papers within a day of receiving them. Plus his guidance was unerring and his support opened doors, says Rajendran.
University of New Brunswick chemical engineering professor Michel Couturier feels the same. Before becoming Ruthven’s colleague, Couturier was his student in chemical thermodynamics and reaction engineering.
“I would chalk him up as one of the best professors I ever had,” says Couturier. “He was rigorous and as a result, I understood the fundamentals of those subjects very well.”
Ruthven applied the same rigour to selecting students while he was director of graduate studies at the University of New Brunswick, says Couturier: “He forced us to seek highly qualified individuals. He had very high standards for his research and the department.”
However, Ruthven also knew how to throw a party. He and his wife Pat invited students, faculty, staff and their families to their lakeside home outside Fredericton for summer department picnics.
“I have fond memories of spending entire afternoons and evenings there,” recalls Couturier. “They would set up tables on their large lawn and people would be swimming and playing volley ball. It was an important gathering – it kept the department united.”
University of Ottawa chemical engineering professor Handan Tezel also has fond memories of being welcomed into Doug and Pat’s home after she and her husband arrived at the University of New Brunswick to do their chemical engineering PhDs.
“Being originally from Turkey, we had no family in Canada, but Doug and Pat treated us like family,” says Tezel. “And as a professor, he was tough, but fair. I really learned a lot from him.”