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!