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!