visual image

News & Publications

Chemical engineering emeritus professor Donald N. Hanson has died

Donald N. Hanson

January 23, 2007 — M. Barnes

Emeritus Professor of Chemical Engineering Donald N. Hanson died on January 11 in Orinda, following a year of illness and hospice care.

Hanson was born in Minooka, IL, on August 3, 1918, and he grew up in Geneva, IL. He earned his B.S. from The University of Illinois ('40), and his M.S. ('41) and Ph.D. ('43) from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Before beginning his 40-year career at UC Berkeley in 1947, Hanson served as an instructor at the University of Wisconsin and at Kansas State College. He also spent two years as an engineer working for Shell Development Company in the Bay Area. He earned tenure at Berkeley in 1953 and was promoted to full professor in 1958. Hanson served as chairman of the chemical engineering department from 1963 to 1966, and served for many years as its director of graduate admissions.

Hanson taught a variety of courses over the years, including Elements of Chemical Process Analysis and Separation Processes. In 1986, he received one of Berkeley’s coveted Distinguished Teaching Awards. At the time, Hanson was praised by a past student because “his love of teaching and detailed knowledge of the material combine to spark a contagious enthusiasm.” In accepting the award, Hanson 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.”

In addition to mentoring more than three dozen graduate students, Hanson wrote some 40 articles and co-authored two books.  He was also co-inventor (sometimes with department colleagues) on several patents. His research in the early years was on computational methods for distillation processes; subsequently, he focused on new methods for separation. He was a principal investigator at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, and he consulted for the Lawrence Livermore and Los Alamos national laboratories. Hanson also consulted for 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.

One of the many researchers influenced by Hanson was departmental colleague, John Prausnitz. "Hanson's research on computational methods for distillation processes was both critical and timely,” says Prausnitz. “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.

“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."

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.

He and his wife of 63 years, Sally, met at the University of Wisconsin, where she was an undergraduate and he was teaching as a newly minted Ph.D.  In addition to his wife, he is survived by his sons Charles of Walnut Creek and David of Davis, CA, and by his daughter, Kristin, of Bend, OR, and seven grandchildren.

There will be a private family remembrance. In lieu of flowers, donations in his memory may be made to Hospice of Contra Costa County.

According to former student Jon Earhart, who earned his Ph.D. in chemical engineering in 1975, “He was the most motivating teacher I ever met at Cal, and he had a remarkable ability to impart his limitless enthusiasm to his students.… He was truly a great teacher, mentor, and friend.”

His warmth and sparkle touched his faculty colleagues as well as his students.  “I have fond remembrances of my early years at Cal, when Don warmed me with his graciousness, humor, magnanimity, and the extraordinary twinkle in his eye,” said Jeffrey Reimer, currently the chair of the chemical engineering department and the Warren and Katharine Schlinger Distinguished Professor.

Hanson was the last surviving member of the original group of faculty that launched the chemical engineering program at Berkeley in the late nineteen forties.  The others included LeRoy Bromley, Charles Tobias, Theodore Vermeulen, Charles Wilke and Campbell Williams.

[top of page]