W. Keith Hall: One of the giants in catalysis

Keith Hall

Keith Hall passed away in his farm/home at Mill Run, Pennsylvania on 3 January 2001 at the age of 82. The catalytic community has lost a major family-member and leader.

Keith was born in McComb, Ohio and graduated from Emory University in 1940. Shortly thereafter, a summer course in high explosives at Georgia Tech undoubtedly led Frank Long to hire him to work on Manhattan Project at the Bruceton Experimental Station as directed by the U.S. Bureau of Mines. Working under the direction of George Kistiakowski and Louis Hammett, Keith met and married his wife Gladys, a secretary earning money for college (“they paid better than anyone else!”) in 1945 while at Bruceton. As the war ended, Keith continued at the Bureau with H. H. Storch and Robert B. Anderson where he was introduced to catalysis, specifically to Fischer-Tropsch synthesis. Concurrently, he received his MS in 1948 from Carnegie Institute. The end of the war had generated an interest in synthetic fuels, and Sol Weller, Irving Wender and Milton Orchin joined the group. This concerted effort was finally terminated by congress in 1956. In 1951 Keith moved across town to work on his PhD at Mellon Institute under Paul Emmett. Keith received his PhD in 1956 from University of Pittsburgh. His son Burl (now a physicist at LBL) was born in 1955. Contemporaries working at the Mellon Institute with Emmett included Dick Kokes, Joe Kummer, Don McIver, Bob Anderson (?), Bob Zabor, and Bob Haldeman. When Emmett left Pittsburgh in 1954, Hall was named as his successor.

Keith continued to work at the Mellon Institute as a Senior Fellow until 1970 when he took a Senior Scientist position with Gulf Research outside Pittsburgh. Keith retired from Gulf in 1973. George Keulks convinced Keith to accept the position of Distinguished Professor of Chemistry at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Many students and postdoctoral students worked with Keith at Milwaukee. While there he coordinated the US-USSR exchange in chemical catalysis. Keith is well remembered for his mandatory Saturday research meetings to keep the troops in order. These meetings developed an international reputation themselves and were known to last well into the afternoon by visitors world wide. Keith retired from this position in 1985 to return to his farm in Mill Run. But his retirement was short lived, as once again he was convinced to become a Distinguished Professor, this time at the University of Pittsburgh, his PhD alma mater. Keith finally retired, for the third and final time, from this position in 1998.

Keith started his catalysis research on Fischer-Tropsch synthesis with Bob Anderson and continued with Emmett [J.Am.Chem.Soc. 82, 1027 (1960)]. But he also initiated studies of hydrogenation over metals and alloys to test Dowden’s electronic theories of catalysis [J.Phys. Chem 62, 816 (1958) and 63, 1102 (1959)]. His employment of isotopic techniques was highly visible throughout his career [J.Am.Chem.Soc. 79, 2091 (1957)]. He published seven papers with Emmett. After Emmett left to again take a position at Johns Hopkins University, Keith continued his interest in hydrogen on solids, primarily metals supported on oxides. He employed a variety of techniques including ESR and NMR often coupled with isotopic studies [J.Catal. 2, 506 (1963) and 2, 518 (1963)]. Keith soon became interested in acidity of silica alumina [J.Catal. 1, 53 (1962) and 3, 512 (1964)]and eventually on zeolites, an interest that would continue throughout his research. He studied hydrocarbon isomerization over a variety surfaces (J. Catal. 13, 161 (1969), Trans. Faraday Soc. 566-66, 477 (1970)]. Keith also became involved in studies of oxidation on metals and eventually on metal oxides, most notably Mo/Al2O3 [J.Catal. 34, 41 (1974)]. Again isotopic studies and a variety of spectroscopic techniques were employed [J. Catal. 53, 135 (1978)], including infrared. In the 1980’s Keith initiated a series of studies related to auto exhaust catalysis. These started with Fe/zeolites [J.Catal. 166, 368 (1997)] and eventually Cu/zeolites [Catal. Let. 15, 311 (1992), J.Phys.Chem. 97, 1204 (1993)] where he developed considerable insight into SCR [J.Catal. 149, 229 (1994)] and NOx reactions [Appl. Catal. B-Env. 2, 303 (1993)]. In parallel, Keith’s interest in the reasons for catalytic acidity and in the role of hydrogen on metals and oxides continued well into the 1990’s.

Keith’s publications have had a profound impact on the catalytic community. Over a score of these have been cited more than a hundred times by others. These include each of those mentioned in the previous discussion as we traced Keith’s areas of research. Altogether he had more than 4,000 citations to his work.

Keith served and led the Catalytic and Chemical community in several ways. He was the editor on the Journal of Catalysis from 1967 to 1989, a period when J.Catalysis became the primary Journal in heterogeneous catalysis. Frank Stone was the European editor and they were close friends. Keith was the president of the Catalysis Society of North America from 1981-85 and founded the Catalysis Society Trust, which has given the society on a strong fiscal base. Keith gave five lectures at Gordon Conferences, was chairman of the Gordon Conference on Catalysis, and served as a Trustee of the Gordon Conferences from 1981-87. Who can forget his perennial presence in the front row of the Gordon Conferences where he would challenge and extrapolate the concepts presented as well as remind the speakers of the prior-art they may have neglected to mention? He had the same room at the conference for many years which was closest to the late night discussions in which he participated actively. In the afternoon he would sail and discuss the concepts of the catalytic science presented. Keith was also active in the ACS and served on the executive committee on the Colloid and Surface Chemistry Division.

Keith received numerous awards, including the Kendall Award, the ACS Petroleum Chemistry Award, and the Exxon Award for Excellence in Catalysis.

One of the most notable aspects of Keith Hall’s research career is the large number of people with whom he worked and to whom he graciously attributed their joint accomplishments. He learned from as he taught each of his students, postdoctoral students, and research colleagues. More than a dozen students received their graduate degrees under Keith’s supervision. These include: Suhil Abdo, L. Christner, Michel Deeba, José Goldwasser, Chuck Kibby, Dave Kreske, Y. Li, J. Larson, Edwardo Lombardo, R. Schneider and L. Wang. Keith had over two dozen postdoctoral colleagues including: John Bett, Victor Borokov, Noel Cant, W. Curt Conner, Michel Crespin, Gary Delzer, Joseph Engelhardt, Xiaobing Feng, G. Fierro, Chia-Min Fu, H. Gerberich, Joe Hightower, Marwan Houalla, V. Korchak, T. Komatsu, Sheldon Lande , K.-Y Lee, H. Leftin, Jacques Leglise, Mario Lo Jocono, Ross Madon, William Millman, Mikoto Misono, Jaun Petunchi, Ko-ichi Segawa, Henri Van Damme, Frank Witzel, Jan Uytterhoeven and Jozsef Valyon. Fifteen of these graduate and postdoctoral students hold faculty positions and continue to teach.

In addition, Keith has collaborated with over ninety other catalytic research scientists around the world. His collaborators included: Paul H. Emmett, Dick Kokes, Vladim Kazanski, Bob Anderson, Henry H. Storch, H. R. Gerberich, F. H. Van Cauwelaert, M. Missono, Frank Massoth, Kh. Minichev, George Keulks, W. Nick Delgass, Jim Dumesic, Gerhart Ertl, Helmut Knözinger, Dave Hercules, Farrell Lytle, Jose Fripiat, Bernie Gerstein and Julie d’Itri. Keith had over one hundred and twenty co-authors in his more than three hundred and fifty publications.

It is obvious that Keith Hall’s influence on catalytic research has been profound not only in what he has accomplished directly but in his vast network of interactions throughout the catalytic world. Moreover, Keith readily served as a leader in the catalytic research community through the Journal of Catalysis, the Gordon Conferences and the Catalysis Society. All scientists in catalysis have lost a family member!