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In Memoriam: Arvind Varma

Nina Welding • DATE: July 22, 2019

Arvind Varma, the R. Games Slayter Distinguished Professor of Chemical Engineering at Purdue University and 10th Head of the Davidson School of Chemical Engineering passed away on July 14, 2019. As a researcher, Varma contributed significantly to the areas of hydrogen and other energy sources, chemical and catalytic reaction engineering, and in the synthesis of advanced materials. As an educator, his impact on his students was equally as noteworthy.

Varma joined Notre Dame’s Department of Chemical Engineering in 1975 as an assistant professor after a short stint in industry. He quickly moved through the ranks, distinguishing himself as a meticulous researcher and eventually serving as department chair from 1982-88. As chair he oversaw a major reorganization of the department that led to the hiring of new faculty, a significant expansion in the level of research, considerable growth in the quality of the undergraduate and graduate programs and greatly improved visibility of the department. In 1988, he became the Arthur J. Schmitt Professor and was named founding director of the Center for Molecularly Engineered Materials in 2000. The center rapidly grew to include some 20 faculty researchers and garnered significant external funding.

A champion of mathematical approaches in chemical engineering, Varma wrote his first textbook "Mathematical Methods in Chemical Engineering" while at Notre Dame. He also began his renowned research on combustion material synthesis while at the University.

He joined the faculty of Purdue University in 2004 and continued his work there. According to Sangtae Kim, the Distinguished Professor and Jay and Cynthia Ihlenfeld Head of Chemical Engineering at Purdue, Varma's creative approach was evident throughout his research. “The School will work with his students to make sure that the world sees his final contribution, a new record-breaking benchmark in non-oxidative coupling of methane,” said Kim.

Arvind Varma. Photo credit: Purdue University.

Varma was a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, American Chemical Society, American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE) and Industrial & Engineering Chemistry Division. He was also an Honorary Fellow of the Indian Institute of Chemical Engineers.

He received numerous fellowships and honors, including the Benjamin Garver Lamme Award (American Society for Engineering Education/ASEE, 2018); Giulio Natta Medal in Chemical Engineering (2017); Warren K. Lewis Award (AIChE, 2013); Distinguished Alumnus (Panjab University, 2008); Chemical Engineering Lectureship Award (ASEE, 2000); and R.H. Wilhelm Award (AIChE, 1993). He was also a Trustee of the AIChE Foundation.

Over the course of his career, Varma authored more than 300 research publications and three books. He edited another two books and was the founding Series Editor of the Cambridge Series in Chemical Engineering.

While he will be greatly missed by his family, friends, and colleagues, there is little doubt that his efforts in support of engineering excellence and his contributions as a visionary researcher will continue to influence generations of chemical engineers.

Varma is survived by his wife, Karen, and daughters, Anita and Sophia. Services are pending.