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Tobias Chair Endowed in Electrochemistry; John Newman Is First Chair Holder

An endowed chair has been named in honor of Charles W. Tobias.

John S. Newman, Professor of Chemical Engineering, has been named the first chair-holder of the newly established Charles W. Tobias Chair in Electrochemistry at the University of California, Berkeley.

Endowed by an anonymous donor, the chair honors the late Charles W. Tobias, who helped to establish Berkeley’s chemical engineering program as one of the leading programs of its kind in the world. Professor Newman has been a member of the Berkeley faculty since 1963.

Charles Tobias overcame multiple obstacles in his native Hungary to become an internationally recognized scientist and engineer, especially in the field of electrochemistry. Born in Budapest in 1920, he received his diploma in 1942 and his Ph.D. in chemical engineering in 1946 from the University of Technical Sciences, despite the difficult war years. In 1947, not long after Budapest came under total Russian control, Professor Tobias escaped Hungary and came to Berkeley with the aid of his brother, Cornelius, who earned a Ph.D. in physics from Berkeley and was a faculty member of the Division of Medical Physics. Years later, at the time of the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, the Tobias brothers helped relocate many Hungarian refugees in the Bay Area.

Charles Tobias initially worked in the Donner Laboratory on the electrical conductivity of blood, for which he received a patent. Later in 1947, he became a faculty member in the newly formed program in Chemical Engineering. As the program grew, Professor Tobias established a subprogram in electrochemical engineering that quickly gained international renown and led significant advances in the field for more than four decades. He mentored 66 graduate students, with whom he had more than 150 publications and patents.

He served as chair of the Department of Chemical Engineering from 1966-72 and as acting dean of the College of Chemistry from 1977-78. He also was president of the Electrochemical Society from 1970-71 and the International Society of Electrochemistry from 1977-78.

Professor Tobias was honored by the Electrochemical Society with election as an honorary member and fellow, the Acheson Award for outstanding contributions to the Society, the Henry B. Linford Award for Distinguished Teaching, and the Vittorio De Nora-Diamond Shamrock Award for outstanding contributions to the field. The Society’s Charles W. Tobias Young Investigator Award was established in his memory in 2003 to recognize outstanding scientific and/or engineering work in fundamental or applied electrochemistry or solid-state science and technology by a young scientist or engineer .

Other recognition included the American Institute of Chemical Engineers’ Alpha Chi Sigma Award for research in chemical engineering and the Founder's Award. He was elected to the National Academy of Engineering in 1983, and upon retirement in 1991, he received the Berkeley Citation for distinguished achievement and service to the University. An accomplished musician and art connoisseur, he was acting director of the University Art Museum in 1972 and served its Board from 1972-75.

Professor Tobias passed away in 1996, leaving behind an active electrochemical engineering program on campus as well as an ongoing effort at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

Professor John S. Newman has continued the leadership established by Charles Tobias in the field of electrochemical engineering. A graduate of Northwestern University, Newman received his M.S. (’62, working with Tobias) and Ph.D. (’63) at Berkeley. Shortly thereafter he joined the faculty of the Department of Chemical Engineering, where he has been a full professor since 1970. He has also been a Principal Investigator and then a Senior Faculty Scientist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, where he currently leads a research program in electrochemistry.

Professor Newman’s research focuses on the analysis and design of electrochemical systems, with special emphasis on batteries and fuel cells. His book Electrochemical Systems, first published in 1973, is now in its third edition and is used throughout the world. He is the author of more than 300 technical publications as well as numerous plenary and invited lectures, and he served as Associate Editor of the Journal of the Electrochemical Society from 1990-2000.

His scholarly contributions have been recognized with the Electrochemical Society’s Linford Award for Distinguished Teaching, Olin Palladium Medal for distinguished contributions to the field of electrochemical or corrosion science, and Research Award of the Battery Division. He was elected a Fellow of the Society in 1995.

Elected to membership in the National Academy of Engineering in 1999, he was the Onsager Professor at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in 2002. He has also received the Excellence in Industrial Research Award from the Northern California Section of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers.


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