Max S. Peters
University of Colorado Boulder
MAX S. PETERS, who will be remembered for his strong leadership and remarkable achievements over 16 years as dean of engineering at the University of Colorado, Boulder, as well as for his fun-loving personality, athleticism, and service to the engineering profession, died on June 20, 2011, at the age of 90. Born in Delaware, Ohio, on August 23, 1920, Max grew up in State College, Pennsylvania, the son of a noted professor of education at Pennsylvania State University—Charles C. Peters—and his wife Dixie. It is said that Max loved to run footraces as a child for the sheer joy of competing and doing well, a trait he exhibited throughout his life. After graduating from State College High School, where he ran track and made an early name for himself by scoring five touchdowns at the football field dedication game, Max went on to study chemical engineering at Penn State. He was active in a variety of organizations, including serving as captain of the ski team, before graduating with his bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering in 1942. After graduation he worked for two years as the supervisor of a nitric acid production unit for the Hercules Powder Company and then joined the Army in the middle of World War II. This reportedly occurred over the protests of his college dean, who claimed Max was needed more by the chemical engineering profession. But Max wanted to be where the action was, and he chose rigorous infantry training as an Army ski trooper in the 10th Mountain Division, A Company, 85th Regiment. He participated in the Italian Apennine Mountains and Po Valley campaigns, winning numerous medals for his service, including two Bronze stars, the Silver Star, and the Purple Heart. Following World War II, Max returned to Penn State as a graduate student and earned his master’s degree in chemical engineering in 1947. He also married his childhood sweetheart, Laurnell Louise Stephens, that year and went to work as a technical plant superintendent for the G. I. Treyz Chemical Company in New York. In 1949 he returned once again to Penn State, where he completed his Ph.D. in chemical engineering in 1951. Thus began a career in which he would have a far-reaching impact as a teacher, an administrator, and a leading air pollution researcher. He joined the faculty of the University of Illinois in 1951, and within a few years started research on air pollution controls, including studies on reducing nitrogen oxide from automobile exhausts catalytically and the effects of lead on these catalysts. Eventually, his work and that of others led to the use of catalytic converters in automobiles and the elimination of lead from gasoline. Max rose to become head of the Division of Chemical Engineering at the University of Illinois. He spent just 10 years at Illinois before leaving to become the eighth dean of the College of Engineering and Applied Science at the University of Colorado, Boulder. From 1962 to 1978, Max led the engineering school through the construction of a new, modern-day engineering center and oversaw significant increases in research funding and improvements to graduate education. “It was a golden time for research funding,” he recalled upon his retirement in 1987. Richard Seebass, who was dean of engineering at the University of Colorado, Boulder, when Max retired, is quoted as saying that “Max never ran a race he couldn’t win.” Indeed, he succeeded in winning a $7.2 million grant from the state of Colorado and a $1.3 million grant from the National Science Foundation to build the new engineering center in 1965—and that was only the beginning. His team, which included longtime friend Klaus Timmerhaus—whom he recruited from Illinois to be associate dean, also won a $3 million National Science Foundation Excellence Grant for faculty development and a large grant from the Sloan Kettering Foundation to develop joint graduate research with the University of Illinois. At the same time he was building the school’s capacity for research and graduate education, Max was able to continue the school’s emphasis on undergraduate learning for its 2,000 students. He did not relinquish his teaching and research activities while dean, choosing instead to teach courses ranging from the freshman introduction to the senior design course in chemical engineering. He also wrote many technical papers and several textbooks on chemical engineering, including the widely known Plant Design and Economics for Chemical Engineers (McGraw-Hill, 1958), which is now in its fifth edition and has sold over 100,000 copies. After Max wrote the original book, Klaus and Ronald West joined him as coauthors on the later editions. Max also was active in professional service, so much so that the College of Engineering and Applied Science created the Max S. Peters Faculty Service Award and presented it to him as the first recipient the year he stepped down as dean. Previously, Max had served as president of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE), chairman of the President’s Committee on the National Medal of Science, and chairman of the Colorado Environmental Commission, which presented a detailed report in 1972 on actions recommended for the future of the state. He also served on the National Research Council’s Advisory Board on Military Personnel Supplies from 1977 to 1980 and later on the NAE Nominating Committee.