In Memoriam: Paul Burg Weisz (1919–2012)

Paul B. Weisz

Paul B. Weisz, 93, for­mer Mobil Senior Sci­en­tist and Man­ag­er of Mobil’s Cen­tral Research Lab­o­ra­to­ry and an inter­na­tion­al­ly rec­og­nized expert in the area of petro­le­um refin­ing cat­a­lysts died on Tues­day, Sep­tem­ber 25th in State Col­lege, PA. Born in Pilsen, Czecho­slo­va­kia, he was the son of Alexan­der and Amalia Weisz. He is sur­vived by his wife, Rho­da A. M. Burg and two chil­dren, Ingrid and Randy Weisz. He grew up with an innate desire to become a sci­en­tist. Paul pub­lished his first arti­cle in a ham radio jour­nal at the age of 16.

Paul emi­grat­ed to the U.S. in 1939 from Berlin, inter­rupt­ing his grad­u­ate stud­ies in pre- World War II Ger­many to attend Auburn Uni­ver­si­ty where he com­plet­ed his B.S. degree in less than one year. Fol­low­ing his grad­u­a­tion, he worked as a researcher at the Bar­tol Research Foun­da­tion of the Franklin Insti­tute in Swarth­more, PA. He lat­er moved to the Mass­a­chu­setts Insti­tute of Tech­nol­o­gy where, as an elec­tron­ics engi­neer, he par­tic­i­pat­ed in the devel­op­ment of LORAN, a long range radio sig­nal-based aid to nav­i­ga­tion.

Paul joined Mobil Research and Devel­op­ment Cor­po­ra­tion in 1946 as a Research Asso­ciate at Mobil’s Pauls­boro, NJ research lab­o­ra­to­ry. He pro­gressed through a num­ber of tech­ni­cal assign­ments, reach­ing the posi­tion of Senior Sci­en­tist, the high­est tech­ni­cal posi­tion in Mobil in 1961. He man­aged Mobil’s Explorato­ry Process Research orga­ni­za­tion from 1967 until 1969 and its Cen­tral Research Lab­o­ra­to­ry in Prince­ton, NJ from 1969 through 1982. Paul retired from Mobil in 1984.

Short­ly after join­ing Mobil, Paul became inter­est­ed in the sub­ject of dif­fu­sion and catal­y­sis. This was the foun­da­tion for a life­long inter­est in porous mate­ri­als as cat­a­lysts and specif­i­cal­ly in crys­talline hydrous alu­mi­nosil­i­cates known as zeo­lites. Along with sev­er­al Mobil col­lab­o­ra­tors, he pio­neered the use of nat­ur­al and syn­thet­ic zeo­lites as cat­a­lysts for petro­le­um refin­ing and petro­chem­i­cal man­u­fac­ture. These zeo­lite cat­a­lysts even­tu­al­ly rev­o­lu­tion­ized many refin­ing process­es because they facil­i­tat­ed only cer­tain reac­tions between mol­e­cules hav­ing spe­cif­ic dimen­sions.

In 1960, Paul pub­lished a ground-break­ing paper co-authored with Vince Frilette, anoth­er Mobil sci­en­tist. This became the foun­da­tion of “shape-selec­tive catal­y­sis” con­cept, and also one of Paul’s wide­ly cit­ed papers (J. Phys. Chem., 64, 382 (1960)). Process­es based on Paul’s con­cept of shape-selec­tive catal­y­sis were first com­mer­cial­ized in the ear­ly 1960’s. Through­out the 1970’s and 1980’s Paul was close­ly asso­ci­at­ed with Mobil’s devel­op­ment of new cat­alyt­ic mate­ri­als and the process­es that were devel­oped around them.

While work­ing at Mobil, Paul took a sab­bat­i­cal in 1964 to earn his doc­tor­al degree from the Eidgenos­sis­che Tech­nis­che Hochschule (ETH) in Zurich, Switzer­land in 1966. His doc­tor­al research the­sis was based on an analy­sis of the per­me­ation of dyes into fibers. His analy­sis was the foun­da­tion for some of the fun­da­men­tal laws asso­ci­at­ed with dif­fu­sion of dye mol­e­cules into fibers.

One of Paul’s for­mi­da­ble strengths was his abil­i­ty to com­mu­ni­cate com­plex the­o­ries suc­cinct­ly. He was a con­stant con­trib­u­tor to the ACS pub­li­ca­tion ChemTech through­out the 70’s and 80’s where he con­tin­ued to enlight­en and delight read­ers with his insight­ful obser­va­tions of how phe­nom­e­na like dif­fu­sion and kinet­ics applied to every­day life.

His 1962 arti­cle with J. S. Hicks, enti­tled “The Behav­ior of Porous Cat­a­lyst Par­ti­cles in View of Inter­nal Mass and Heat Dif­fu­sion Effects,” Chem. Eng. Sci. 17, 265 (1962) was select­ed as one of the 50 most influ­en­tial arti­cles in Chem­i­cal Engi­neer­ing Sci­ence in the publication’s 1995 “Fron­tiers in Chem­i­cal Engi­neer­ing Sci­ence” com­mem­o­ra­tive edi­tion.

After he retired from Mobil in 1984, he began a third, high­ly pro­duc­tive career, apply­ing chem­i­cal and phys­i­cal prin­ci­ples to bio­med­ical research first at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Penn­syl­va­nia an then at Penn State. Work­ing with Dr. Madeleine Jouille at U. Penn he syn­the­sized mol­e­cules that mim­ic some of the heal­ing prop­er­ties of heparin, but that do not exhib­it heparin’s poten­tial­ly dan­ger­ous side effects.

For his numer­ous indus­tri­al research accom­plish­ments and con­tri­bu­tions to the sci­ence of catal­y­sis, Paul earned many awards includ­ing: The E. V. Mur­phree Award in Indus­tri­al Chem­istry from the Amer­i­can Chem­i­cal Soci­ety (1972), The Pio­neer Award from the Amer­i­can Insti­tute of Chemists (1974), The Leo Friend Award of the Amer­i­can Chem­i­cal Soci­ety (1977), the R. H. Wil­helm Award from the Amer­i­can Insti­tute of Chem­i­cal Engi­neers (1978), the Lavosier Medal from the Soci­ete Chemique de France (1983), The Lang­muir Dis­tin­guished Lec­tur­er Award from the Amer­i­can Chem­i­cal Soci­ety (1983), the Perkin Medal, from the Amer­i­can Sec­tion of the Soci­ety of Chem­i­cal Indus­try (1985), The Carothers Award from the Amer­i­can Chem­i­cal Soci­ety (1987), and the Nation­al Medal of Tech­nol­o­gy from Pres­i­dent George H. Bush in 1992. He was elect­ed to the Nation­al Acad­e­my of Engi­neer­ing, one of the high­est hon­ors for an engi­neer, in 1977 and received an Hon­orary Doc­tor­ate (Sc.D. in tech­no­log­i­cal sci­ence) from the Swiss Fed­er­al Insti­tute of Tech­nol­o­gy in 1980.

Begin­ning in the ear­ly 1950’s Paul’s work at Mobil Oil with col­lab­o­ra­tors includ­ing N. Y. Chen, Vince Frilette, John McCul­lough, Dwight Prater, Jack Wise, Al Schwartz, Heinz Heine­man, Fritz Smith, and oth­ers helped set the foun­da­tions for zeo­lite catal­y­sis. His sem­i­nal work in the use of nat­ur­al zeo­lites as high­ly shape-selec­tive con­ver­sion cat­a­lysts set the stage for 50+ years of high­ly pro­duc­tive process research and rev­o­lu­tion­ized the refin­ing and petro­chem­i­cal indus­tries. Paul’s nine­ty-one issued U.S. patents and more than 180 jour­nal pub­li­ca­tions cov­er top­ics rang­ing from car­bona­ceous deposits on cat­a­lysts to chem­i­cal agents that impact the dif­fu­sion of drugs in human cells. Paul Weisz leaves behind a very rich sci­en­tif­ic and tech­ni­cal lega­cy that has great­ly impact­ed our aca­d­e­m­ic and indus­tri­al catal­y­sis research com­mu­ni­ties. His work con­tin­ues to inspire chemists and chem­i­cal engi­neers work­ing in the area of catal­y­sis and bio­ma­te­ri­als.
(Con­tributed by Thomas Deg­nan, Jose’ Santi­este­ban, and Dominick Maz­zone)