In Memoriam: Robert K. Grasselli (1931-2018)

Robert Grasselli obtained his bachelor degree from Harvard in 1952, after wining a scholarship from the Technical University in Graz, Austria. He obtained his M.A. and Ph.D. degrees from Case-Western Reserve University, Cleveland, from where he proceeded to Sohio as a research scientist. After leaving Sohio he worked at the US Office of Naval Research, Washington, where he was Director of Chemical Research, and then at Mobil Corporation. From 1996 to 2006 he was Guest Professor of Physical Chemistry at the University of Munich and, simultaneously, Adjunct Full Professor in Chemical Engineering at the Center for Catalytic Science and Technology in the University of Delaware at Newark. Later he became Distinguished Affiliated Professor at the Technical University of Munich (2006-2018).

Dr. Robert A. Grasselli was a highly accomplished and innovative industrial chemist, renowned for his seminal contributions to the design, development, and commercial exploitation of novel solid catalysis. Inventor in 160 U.S. patents, he was instrumental in developing a fundamentally new method of producing the polymer precursor, acrylonitrile. The key innovation in this one-step process was the use microcrystalline bismuth molybdate; the process was so effective that, after its adoption worldwide, a 50-fold increase of acrylonitrile production was achieved.

Dr. Robert Grasselli was elected to the US National Academy of Engineering (1995); inducted into the US National Hall of Fame for Engineering, Science and Technology (1988); was a recipient of the American Chemical Society E. N. Morley Medal (1999); and the E. V. Murphee Award for Industrial and Engineering Chemistry in 1984. He also shared the Distinguished Award in Oxidation Catalysis from the World Oxidation Catalysis Society in Berlin (2001); and he received a doctorate, honoris causa, from the University of Bologna. He was awarded the prestigious Alexander von Humboldt Prize in1995.

Dr. Grasselli combined the best of the American optimism and ‘can-do’ spirit with the old-world European cultural depth and charm of the continent of his birth. He read extensively; he loved music and was an ardent supporter of the Vienna Phillarmonic. He had a passion for skiing and for travel to far-away places. He loved gardening, unusual flora, and modern art. For the last twenty years of his life, he and his wife, Dr. Eva-Maria Hauck, spent their time in their two homes, one in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, the other in Munich. He will always be remembered for his ethusiam for science that led him throughout his life to bring friends together in discussion.
(Prepared by Doug Buttrey, William Goddard III, and Raul Lobo)