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A Legacy of Leadership: Remembering Dr. Arvind Varma
(1947-2019)

Professor Arvind Varma, the R. Games Slayter Distinguished Professor of Chemical Engineering at Purdue University and 10th Head of the School, passed away on July 14, 2019. Dr. Varma will be known as a ground-breaking chemical engineering researcher who has had significant impacts in the areas of hydrogen and other energy sources, chemical and catalytic reaction engineering, and in the synthesis of advanced materials. He will also be fondly remembered as an innovative leader in the field of chemical engineering.
 

Dr. Arvind Varma (1947-2019)

Professor Arvind Varma, the R. Games Slayter Distinguished Professor of Chemical Engineering at Purdue University and 10th Head of the School, passed away on July 14, 2019. Dr. Varma will be known as a ground-breaking chemical engineering researcher who has had significant impacts in the areas of hydrogen and other energy sources, chemical and catalytic reaction engineering, and in the synthesis of advanced materials. He will also be fondly remembered as an innovative leader in the field of chemical engineering.

“I’d like to share one facet of this remarkable person. It seems like only yesterday that I met Arvind for the first time, but it was over thirty years ago in South Bend,” said Dr. Sangtae Kim, Distinguished Professor and Jay and Cynthia Ihlenfeld Head of Chemical Engineering. “He was demonstrating his latest and greatest results in combustion synthesis of advanced materials. His creative flair continued right to the present, and 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 (NOMC).”

Born in India, Dr. Varma earned his B.S. from Panjab University in 1966, his M.S. in 1968 from the University of New Brunswick, and his PhD from the University of Minnesota in 1972. He began his faculty career as an assistant professor at Minnesota for one year, before joining the faculty at Notre Dame in 1975. He progressed to full professor in 1980, and served as Chair of the Department of Chemical Engineering at Notre Dame for seven years.

In January 2004, Dr. Varma joined Purdue as Head and R. Games Slayter Distinguished Professor of Chemical Engineering. During his tenure as Head until July 2016, Dr. Varma led the School in a period of significant growth in key areas and reached significant milestones, particularly growth in faculty, graduate student, and undergraduate student numbers; increased research expenditures; expanded facilities and equipment, which included renovations to existing space and the addition of a new wing (dedicated 2004); 100 Years of Chemical Engineering Curriculum at Purdue (2007); and the celebration of the School’s Centennial (2011).

“My fond memories of Arvind began during his visit to IIT Kanpur where I was on the faculty. He was only 24 then and about a year away from his PhD at the University of Minnesota,” recalled Dr. Doraiswami Ramkrishna, the Harry Creighton Peffer Distinguished Professor of Chemical Engineering. “I asked him to give a seminar which he did with no slides but with considerable elegance using merely a chalk. An attempt was made to convince him of beginning his academic career at IIT-K but it was unsuccessful as Arvind wanted to spend some time in industry which he did with Union Carbide. But the seeds had been sown for another recruiting attempt at Purdue more than 30 years later that I am happy to have successfully spearheaded as the Head of the Head Search Committee!”

Dr. Varma was elected as a Fellow of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (2008); Foreign Member, Academy of Engineering, Mexico (2010); American Association for the Advancement of Science (2011); American Chemical Society, Industrial & Engineering Chemistry Division (2011); and Honorary Fellow of the Indian Institute of Chemical Engineers (2011). He received numerous fellowships, honors, and recognitions, including the Benjamin Garver Lamme Award (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 a current Trustee of the AIChE Foundation.

He authored over 300 research publications, three books (Mathematical Methods in Chemical Engineering, Oxford University Press, 1997; Parametric Sensitivity in Chemical Systems, Cambridge University Press, 1999; Catalyst Design: Optimal Distribution of Catalyst in Pellets, Reactors and Membranes, Cambridge University Press, 2001) and edited two books. He was the founding Series Editor of the Cambridge Series in Chemical Engineering.

Dr. Varma worked tirelessly to support excellence in Purdue Chemical Engineering. From recruiting top faculty to engaging alumni donors to supporting student success, Dr. Varma’s contributions as a visionary leader have created a lasting legacy that will continue into the future.

Dr. Varma is survived by his wife, Karen, and daughters, Anita and Sophia. A memorial service to celebrate Dr. Varma’s accomplishments will take place at Purdue on October 13-14, 2019. For details, please see https://engineering.purdue.edu/ChE/events/2019/dr-arvind-varma-celebration and contact cfarmus@purdue.edu.

Read more about Dr. Arvind Varma at https://engineering.purdue.edu/ChE/people/ptProfile?resource_id=11068.

Click on the image below or on this link to view the Varma Memorial Symposium program booklet.