Ronald G. Larson was named the A.H. White Distinguished University Professor of Chemical Engineering, in recognition of his extraordinary advances in polymer science, his teaching, and service to the College of Engineering and the chemical engineering community.
Larson is a distinguished engineer in the field of polymer science & engineering. He came to the University in 1996 after sixteen years with Bell Laboratories in New Jersey. His research focuses on the structure and dynamics of “complex fluids,” sometimes also called “soft matter,” which includes polymers, colloids, surfactants, and lipids, They appear in materials as diverse as plastics, shampoos, paints, and biological fluids. He is the author of three important textbooks, including The Structure and Rheology of Complex Fluids. His accomplishments have earned him several major awards from professional organizations, including election to the National Academy of Engineering and the Alpha Chi Sigma Award from the AIChE.
He was chair of the department from 2001-2008, during which time he recruited some outstanding faculty, including associate professor-level hires Nick Kotov and Sharon Glotzer, who have given the department a leadership role in nanomaterials, as well as outstanding assistant professors, who are rapidly becoming leaders in chemical engineering. While serving as chair, Larson continued to improve the scope of the department’s research, with an emphasis on hiring top researchers and promoting faculty collaborative projects. He has served on numerous College committees and helped launch important initiatives such as the University of Michigan Shanghai Jiao Tong University Joint Institute.
Larson formed the ChE Alumni Advisory Board during his chairmanship. One of the board’s first projects was to help the department evaluate the graduate and undergraduate programs, and to suggest changes for improvement. The board members have also assisted the department to publicize its strengths and to solicit more funding.
With this most recent honor, Larson chose to remember Alfred Holmes White, who taught at U-M from 1897 until he retired in 1943 as chair of the department, which he helped found in 1898. Larson is also the George Granger Brown Professor of Chemical Engineering. He admires White and Brown, shown in the photo to the right. Both were former faculty members and chairs of the department who guided it through its first half century. Their work laid the foundation for what the department is today—an institution whose researchers and educators continue to make important contributions to the profession and to society worldwide. As chair, Larson was inspired by their dedication and hopes that his contributions to the department will prove to be valuable to the department in this century. He notes that the total tenure as chair for White, Brown, and himself was 44 years—a good chunk of the department’s 115-year history.
Larson has expressed his delight in being named a Distinguished University Professor. “It is hard to imagine a greater honor, coming from an institution that I love, and has done so much for me. Considering others who have been named to this honor makes this especially gratifying.” He wants it to be recognized that the University and especially the Chemical Engineering Department and its faculty, staff, and students, have been a major factor in his progress in research, teaching, and service and should consider this honor theirs as well.