Michel Boudart: The Science of Catalysis

Michel Boudart

Michel Boudart

Michel Boudart was born in 1924 in Brus­sels. He grad­u­ated from the Uni­ver­sity of Lou­vain with a B.S. degree (Can­di­da­ture Inge­nieur, 1944) and an M.S. degree (Inge­nieur Civil Chimiste, 1947). In 1950 he received his Ph.D. degree in Chem­istry from Prince­ton Uni­ver­sity under the men­tor­ship of Sir Hugh Tay­lor, who, along with Sir Eric Rideal and Paul Emmett, laid the foun­da­tions for mod­ern catal­y­sis as a mol­e­c­u­lar science.

After grad­u­a­tion, Michel remained at Prince­ton Uni­ver­sity until 1961, first at the For­re­stal Research Cen­ter as a research asso­ciate (1950–1953) and assis­tant to John B. Fenn, the direc­tor of Project SQUID (1953–1954), then in the Depart­ment of Chem­i­cal Engi­neer­ing as Assis­tant Pro­fes­sor (1954–1958) and Asso­ciate Pro­fes­sor (1958–1961) and where he quickly estab­lished a rep­u­ta­tion as one of the bright­est young “stars” in the dis­ci­pline. After a three-year stay at the Uni­ver­sity of Cal­i­for­nia at Berke­ley as Pro­fes­sor of Chem­i­cal Engi­neer­ing, he became Pro­fes­sor of Chem­i­cal Engi­neer­ing and Chem­istry at Stan­ford Uni­ver­sity in the Depart­ment of Chem­i­cal Engi­neer­ing, which he helped lead to a posi­tion of inter­na­tional promi­nence and chaired from 1975 until 1978. He was the Keck Pro­fes­sor of Engi­neer­ing from 1980 to 1994, and Keck Pro­fes­sor of Engi­neer­ing, Emer­i­tus from then until his pass­ing on May 2, 2012.

His hon­ors include: Bel­gian Amer­i­can Edu­ca­tional Foun­da­tion Fel­low­ship, 1948; Proc­ter Fel­low­ship, 1949; Cur­tis McGraw Research Award of the Amer­i­can Soci­ety for Engi­neer­ing Edu­ca­tion, 1962; the R.H. Wil­helm Award in Chem­i­cal Reac­tion Engi­neer­ing of the Amer­i­can Insti­tute of Chem­i­cal Engi­neers, 1974; the 1977 Kendall Award and the 1985 Mur­phree Award, both of the Amer­i­can Chem­i­cal Soci­ety; the 1991 Chem­i­cal Pio­neer Award of the Amer­i­can Insti­tute of Chemists; and the Inter­na­tional Pre­cious Met­als Insti­tute 1994 Tanaka Dis­tin­guished Achieve­ment Award. The Sym­po­sium “Advances in Cat­alytic Chem­istry III” (May 1985, Salt Lake City, Utah) was orga­nized in his honor, as was the Catal­y­sis Sym­po­sium of the 68th ACS Col­loid and Sur­face Sci­ence Sym­po­sium (June 1994, Stan­ford Uni­ver­sity). The Catal­y­sis Soci­ety selected him as the 1986 Cia­petta Lec­turer. Michel was elected to the National Acad­emy of Sci­ences in 1975, to the National Acad­emy of Engi­neer­ing in 1979, to the Amer­i­can Acad­emy of Arts and Sci­ences in 1991, to the Legion D’Honneur in France and to three Acad­e­mies in his native Bel­gium where he and his wife Marina were also hon­ored as Knights of the Crown. He also received sev­eral hon­orary degrees, served on sev­eral edi­to­r­ial boards, and, in recog­ni­tion of Michel Boudart’s broad global influ­ence, the North Amer­i­can Catal­y­sis Soci­ety and the Euro­pean Fed­er­a­tion of Catal­y­sis Soci­eties joined hands and in 2006 estab­lished the Michel Boudart Award for the Advance­ment of Catal­y­sis in recog­ni­tion of the truly inter­na­tional impact of his achieve­ments and guid­ance in this field.

Boudart’s text­book, Kinet­ics of Chem­i­cal Processes (1968), has been trans­lated into Japan­ese, Span­ish, and French, and was pub­lished again (1991) in the Butterworth-Heineman Series of Chem­i­cal Engi­neer­ing Reprints. He is also the author of Kinet­ics of Het­ero­ge­neous Cat­alytic Reac­tions (with G. Djéga-Mariadassou), Prince­ton Uni­ver­sity Press, 1984, orig­i­nally pub­lished as Ciné­tique des réac­tions en catal­yse hétéro­gene (Mas­son, Paris, 1982). Together, these two books rep­re­sent a legacy that con­tin­ues to define the field. He was also co-editor (with J.R. Ander­son) of Catal­y­sis: Sci­ence and Tech­nol­ogy, Vol­umes 1–9 (Springer-Verlag). He pub­lished more than 250 jour­nal arti­cles and held four US patents.

Michel estab­lished his poten­tial for lead­er­ship right from the begin­ning. Dur­ing his grad­u­ate stud­ies, he rec­og­nized the cat­alytic con­se­quences of the elec­tronic prop­er­ties of solids and, a mere few months after they were reported, brought Linus Pauling’s con­cepts of the d-character of met­als into the study of catal­y­sis. Later, he com­bined these con­cepts with knowl­edge emerg­ing from the­ory and sur­face sci­ence to pro­pose a clas­si­fi­ca­tion of reac­tions based on their sen­si­tiv­ity to sur­face struc­ture, mea­sured in prac­tice from the effects of the size and com­po­si­tion of metal clus­ters on the rates of chem­i­cal reac­tions. Such pio­neer­ing break­throughs required that he lead his research group through the devel­op­ment of pro­to­cols for count­ing the num­bers of exposed metal atoms using mol­e­c­u­lar titrants, and for assess­ing the struc­ture of such atoms using spec­tro­scopic meth­ods very soon after they became avail­able. He pio­neered the use of Möss­bauer, infrared, and X-ray absorp­tion spec­tro­scopies in het­ero­ge­neous catal­y­sis, and estab­lished the use of emerg­ing for­malisms of irre­versible ther­mo­dy­nam­ics in the mech­a­nis­tic assess­ment of cat­alytic sequences. Michel Boudart was also inter­ested in indus­trial devel­op­ments and how catal­y­sis can help solve major soci­etal prob­lems. In 1974, Boudart co-founded the com­pany Catalytica.

Michel’s intense focus on the prop­er­ties of sur­faces at the atomic scale and on the mech­a­nism of mol­e­c­u­lar trans­for­ma­tions, through the prism of bond-making and bond-breaking ele­men­tary events, was always ahead of the times. He served as the bea­con that led the evo­lu­tion of catal­y­sis from its roots in phe­nom­e­no­log­i­cal indus­trial prac­tice into a sci­ence grounded in the chem­istry and physics of the syn­the­sis and the struc­tural and func­tional char­ac­ter­i­za­tion of cat­alytic solids. The birth and growth of this dis­ci­pline into a mature sci­ence owes its intel­lec­tual nutri­ents to the remark­able insights, keen eye for rel­e­vance and ele­gance, and excel­lent taste in research top­ics that char­ac­ter­ized Michel and his career over five decades.

Michel’s con­stant quest for under­stand­ing made him a nat­ural stew­ard of the field. His curios­ity, his own suc­cess, and his close read­ing of the lit­er­a­ture allowed him to bring sharp focus to the research fron­tier and to cham­pion all who were push­ing it for­ward. When asked about his great­est achieve­ment, how­ever, Michel was firm and con­sis­tent in his response – his stu­dents and their own achieve­ments. For exam­ple, late in his career he posed the fol­low­ing ques­tion: “Why is an aca­d­e­mic career so desir­able.” His answer: “Because of the stu­dents!” The sci­en­tific and crit­i­cal approaches he imprinted into those whom he men­tored, and the role model that he pro­vided for them as a per­son and as a scholar, rep­re­sent his most endur­ing lega­cies — his rip­ple in time — and his rec­og­nized claim to an aca­d­e­mic tree that con­tin­ues to advance the field of catal­y­sis and which extends over many gen­er­a­tions and through­out the world. His advice to stu­dents and post­docs set­ting out on their careers was “do not lament what you don’t know, make the most of what you do know” still rings true today, pro­vided that mak­ing the most of what you do know includes, as Michel’s career exem­pli­fies, con­tin­u­ous exten­sion of what you know and vig­or­ous appli­ca­tion and pro­tec­tion of the high­est level of sci­en­tific rigor.
Con­tributed by W. Nicholas Del­gass, James A. Dumesic, Enrique Igle­sia, Fabio Ribeiro and Hen­rik Top­søe on March 22, 2013.