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Paul Plouffe, long-time ChemE lecturer, has died

Paul Plouffe
Paul Plouffe

November 20, 2007

Paul Plouffe, a long-time lecturer for chemical engineering’s undergraduate writing program, has died. He was 68. Plouffe, who had undergone heart bypass surgery several years ago, was in Los Angeles visiting former classmates from the University of Southern California’s film school. He died in his sleep early Sunday morning, November 11, from a major heart attack.

Says chemical engineering chair Jeff Reimer, “For 24 years Paul Plouffe has been the soul of our undergraduate program, leading each and every student through ChemE 185. His warm and gentle personality graced Gilman Hall, and I know I speak for us all when I say that we are in deep grief.”

Plouffe was a multitalented intellect who earned his B.A. and M.A. degrees from Boston College in classics and philosophy, and a Certificat d’Etudes Superieures from the University of Paris. He later studied film production at USC before earning his Ph.D. in comparative literature and film at UC Berkeley in 1979.

With co-author John Hatton, Plouffe wrote two books, “The Culture of Science: Essays and Issues for Writers,” and “Science and its Ways of Knowing,” both in the 1990s. He taught various film and literature courses throughout the Bay Area and had written three screenplays. He could read Latin, Greek, French, Spanish and Italian, and he could speak French and a little Italian.

In 1983, Plouffe began teaching ChemE 185, Technical Communication for Chemical Engineers. He continued to be the instructor for the course until his death. Because the class was required for all chemical engineering undergrads, Plouffe came to know every undergrad student in the department for nearly two-and-a-half decades.

His knowledge and affection for his students made him a resource for identifying worthy scholarship recipients and for many other departmental activities. Always a favorite of the students, Plouffe won the Department of Chemical Engineering Teaching Award in 1999, and he was designated the “Most Appreciated Faulty Member” by the UC Berkeley student chapter of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE) in 1994, 1996, 1999 and 2000.

“Paul was an extraordinary presence for our students,” says Reimer. “He was peerless.”

Says neighbor and Ajunct Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Caroline Kane, “Paul...what a gentle giant of a man. He and I shared a strong love of teaching and a strong commitment to helping students become good scientists in all aspects. He was an avid Oakland Athletics' fan, and his home on the border of Tilden Park and Wildcat Canyon provided him much relaxation and contemplation looking across the canyon, especially after a particularly stressful day. He also was a friend to many cats in the neighborhood, all of whom will miss the treats and the soft places to sleep in his garage.”

Plouffe is survived by his brothers Jim Plouffe of Wilmington, Delaware and Bill Plouffe of South Freeport, Maine, and by eight nieces and nephews.

Bill Plouffe would appreciate cards and notes from all who wish to express their condolences. If you would like to send your own message, the address is William L. Plouffe, P.O. Box 817, 33 Spar Cove Road, South Freeport, ME 04078. The email address is

A memorial service will be held at the U.C. Berkeley Faculty Club on Saturday, January 27.

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