Deaths: John Kiefer

John Kiefer working with students in a lab

John Kiefer (right) works with former students.

John H. Kiefer, former head of chemical engineering, died Oct. 5. He was 84.

Kiefer is internationally known for his research involving shock tube studies of rates of chemical reactions of hydrocarbons. He investigated dissociation rates, vibrational relaxation, decomposition pathways and mechanisms at high temperatures. His general research field was combustion chemistry, with particular emphasis on investigation of combustion and pyrolysis of hydrocarbons using shock tubes, laser diagnostic techniques, spectroscopy and thermodynamics of gases and theory of unimolecular reactions.

In 1966, he joined the faculty as an associate professor in the energy engineering department at Circle Campus, now UIC’s chemical engineering department. He was promoted to professor in 1972 and was acting head of the department from 1989 to 1991 and 1995 to 1996, before serving as head of the department from 1996 to 2001.

He graduated several Ph.D. students in chemical engineering and trained many post-doctoral research associates.

“John was a superb scientist and an excellent teacher,” said Eric “Rick” Gislason, professor emeritus of chemistry. “I had the pleasure of serving on several of his graduate student Ph. D. oral exams.  Without exception the students had done very good work and were well prepared for the exam.  In every case I voted an enthusiastic ‘yes,’ as did everyone else on the exam committee.”

He retired from UIC in 2001 but continued his funded research, publishing research articles until 2011 as professor emeritus of chemical engineering and as a senior chemist in collaboration with Argonne National Laboratory.

Kiefer’s research was continuously supported by grants from the U. S. Department of Energy Basic Energy Sciences, from 1978 through post-retirement.

He was recognized as an excellent teacher and advisor, having been nominated by students four times for the Silver Circle Award for teaching excellence. He won a Best Advisor Award in the College of Engineering in 1993, the first time it was introduced. He received the College of Engineering Harold A. Simon Award for Excellence in Teaching in 1987.

He was involved with the Combustion Institute, International Symposium on Combustion and was on the Editorial Advisory Board of the International Journal of Chemical Kinetics from 1990 to 1996.

Kiefer received his bachelor’s in chemical engineering with distinction from University of Minnesota in 1954 and Ph.D. in physical chemistry from Cornell University in 1961. He was a staff member at Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory in New Mexico from 1961 to 1966.

Cynthia Jameson, professor emeritus of chemistry, said Kiefer will be remembered for his dry sense of humor in addition to his academic excellence.

“John was a quintessential academic, excelling in all areas: highly cited scholarship, continuous external funding, teaching and mentorship, service to the profession as a career-long member of the Combustion Institute, and service to the university as a department head,” she said. “He was known for his acerbic wit.”

A memorial service will be held at 3 p.m. Nov. 10 in 230 Chemical Engineering Building.

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