In Memoriam: John R. Monnier (1948–2024)

Dr. John R. Mon­nier passed away on April 6, 2024 at the age of 76. John was Pro­fes­sor of Chem­i­cal Engi­neer­ing at the Uni­ver­si­ty of South Car­oli­na, which he joined in 2004 after retir­ing as a Tech­nol­o­gy Fel­low at the East­man Chem­i­cal Com­pa­ny in Kingsport, Ten­nessee. 

John grad­u­at­ed with a bachelor’s degree in chem­istry from St. Ambrose Col­lege in Dav­en­port, Iowa, and a master’s in Het­ero­ge­neous Catal­y­sis at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Wis­con­sin-Mil­wau­kee with Prof. George W. Keulks in the area of cat­alyt­ic olefin epox­i­da­tion, in 1972. There­after, John began his pro­fes­sion­al career in the Cor­po­rate Research Lab­o­ra­to­ries of East­man Kodak Com­pa­ny in Rochester, NY. He returned to UW-Mil­wau­kee in 1976 on an aca­d­e­m­ic leave of absence and received his Ph.D. in Het­ero­ge­neous Catal­y­sis in 1978, again with Prof. Keulks. John resumed his work at East­man Kodak in Rochester, and trans­ferred in 1993 to East­man Chem­i­cal in Kingsport, where he worked until his retire­ment from indus­try.

Dr. Monnier’s study of the epox­i­da­tion of high­er olefins began in 1986, and cul­mi­nat­ed in his dis­cov­ery of a cat­a­lyst sys­tem which selec­tive­ly epox­i­dizes buta­di­ene to 3,4‑epoxybutene using mol­e­c­u­lar oxy­gen in the gas phase, which rep­re­sent­ed the first advance­ment of olefin epox­i­da­tion using mol­e­c­u­lar oxy­gen in more than 50 years. This work was rec­og­nized in 1988 with the C. E. K. Mees Award, giv­en annu­al­ly for the most out­stand­ing research con­duct­ed at Kodak Research Lab­o­ra­to­ries. In 1993, he was named Out­stand­ing Researcher for the North­east Ten­nessee Divi­sion of the Amer­i­can Chem­i­cal Soci­ety. 

Com­mer­cial­ized in 1997, the epox­i­da­tion of buta­di­ene, and down­stream trans­for­ma­tion of epoxy­butene, uses sev­er­al nov­el cat­alyt­ic process­es, includ­ing the iso­mer­iza­tion reac­tions of epoxy­butene to 2,5‑dihydrofuran and 2,5‑dihydrofuran to 2,3‑dihydrofuran, as well as the remark­ably selec­tive hydro­gena­tion of epoxy­butene to epoxybu­tane. Mon­nier is either the sole or co-dis­cov­er­er of each of these reac­tions, for which he received more than 25 patents.

The acco­lades for Dr. Monnier’s research and devel­op­ment in epox­i­da­tion con­tin­ued in force. In 1998, he was named Out­stand­ing Indus­tri­al Inno­va­tor by the Amer­i­can Chem­i­cal Soci­ety. In 2000, Mon­nier received the Her­man Pines Award from the Chica­go Catal­y­sis Club. He was award­ed the 2002 Cia­pet­ta Lec­ture­ship in Catal­y­sis, one of the four major bien­ni­al awards of the North Amer­i­can Catal­y­sis Soci­ety. 

The pro­gres­sion of John’s phys­i­cal dis­abil­i­ty – he had mus­cu­lar dys­tro­phy – pre­cip­i­tat­ed a move from indus­try to acad­e­mia in 2004. At the Uni­ver­si­ty of South Car­oli­na in Colum­bia, SC, John excelled at the new call­ing of men­tor­ing grad­u­ate stu­dents, apply­ing his unpar­al­leled com­bi­na­tion of indus­tri­al rel­e­vance, prac­ti­cal knowl­edge, intense wit, and self-effac­ing humor. Though in a wheel­chair, John’s spir­it soared; com­ing down the hall­way his rau­cous voice was always heard before he was seen.

At USC, John con­tin­ued his work in epox­i­da­tion catal­y­sis, achiev­ing a new under­stand­ing of the elec­tron­ic role of alka­li pro­mot­ers. He devel­oped a new method to syn­the­size sup­port­ed bimetal­lic nanopar­ti­cles based on elec­tro­less depo­si­tion, a process he had seen employed at Kodak on bulk mate­ri­als, and he con­tin­ued to refine char­ac­ter­i­za­tion meth­ods includ­ing in-situ x‑ray dif­frac­tion and chemisorp­tion. John’s indus­tri­al back­ground and exper­tise in het­ero­ge­neous cat­a­lyst prepa­ra­tion, char­ac­ter­i­za­tion, and eval­u­a­tion lent great cre­dence to USC’s NSF-sup­port­ed indus­tri­al con­sor­tium, the Cen­ter for Ratio­nal Cat­a­lyst Syn­the­sis (CeR­CaS). 

And the nation­al awards did not stop. In 2017, John received the Amer­i­can Insti­tute of Chem­i­cal Engineer’s Chem­i­cal and Reac­tion Engi­neer­ing Prac­tice Award, and most sig­nif­i­cant­ly in 2017, Pro­fes­sor Mon­nier was induct­ed into the Nation­al Acad­e­my of Engi­neer­ing. In 2022, John received the Excel­lence in Catal­y­sis Award from the Philadel­phia Catal­y­sis Soci­ety.

In his twen­ty years at USC, Dr. Mon­nier advised twen­ty-two Ph.D. stu­dents and numer­ous vis­it­ing schol­ars, post­docs, and under­grad­u­ate stu­dents. These mentees and his aca­d­e­m­ic and indus­tri­al col­leagues and staff will remem­ber John with tremen­dous affec­tion as a bril­liant cat­alyt­ic sci­en­tist whose numer­ous accom­plish­ments and acco­lades were always exceed­ed by his humil­i­ty and his human­i­ty.
JR Regal­b­u­to
April 11, 2024