Chris G. Whipple

Environ International Corp.
BSES ’70

For his outstanding accomplishments in radioactive waste management, environmental risk management, risk communication, and nuclear safety, the College of Engineering is proud to present the Distinguished Engineering Alumnus Award to Chris G. Whipple.

Choosing a Direction

“I showed up at Purdue not having any strong sense of what I wanted to do,” Chris Whipple says, “and that sort of remains true—I like to think that I’ve had a really good time by never choosing a major.”

Eventually, Whipple did choose a major after taking a freshman seminar that covered the different disciplines for incoming Purdue engineers. “It’s really classical physics when you get right down to it,” he says of engineering science, his eventual focus of study while at Purdue.

This broadly focused training has taken Whipple through a PhD at the California Institute of Technology, to the chairmanship of the National Academy of Sciences Committee for the Hanford Site, to the Yucca Mountain Project as a technical consultant, and to authorship of more than 150 publications and presentations.

A New Discipline, a New Debate

“While I was in grad school, we had the oil embargo,” Whipple says, “so energy was trendy. At the time I was finishing my PhD in ’74, the utility industry had set up the Electric Power Research Institute, and they hired the dean of engineering from UCLA, Chauncey Starr—Chauncey had been one of the bright young men at the Manhattan Project.” Starr came to Whipple’s grad school advisor seeking new talent, and Whipple interviewed with Chauncey. “And it was one of the strangest interviews in my life,” Whipple says. “About ten minutes in he said, ‘I can’t tell a thing about you in a half-hour except that you got here on time and you’re wearing a suit. You’ve got the job.’ It was one of those life-changing half-hours.”

His job at the utility commission encompassed “whatever needed analyzing,” Whipple says. “I worked on a whole bunch of technical problems that didn’t fit any sort of technical pattern.” He had been hired into the field of risk management, at a time when the debate about the risks and benefits of technology was just heating up.

“Along the way I got involved in studies of the environmental effects of power generation,” Whipple says. “This included nuclear safety issues, radioactive waste, and air pollution issues having to do with coal combustion.”

Whipple’s career has spanned 30 years doing risk assessment and environmental analyses, gauging the risks associated with energy production, fuel emissions, and radioactive wastes. He was on the National Academy’s Committee on Radioactive Waste with the U.S.S.R. and has worked with the Swedish Radiation Protection Institute and for the U.S. Department of Energy, among others. These days he is a principal in Environ International’s Emeryville, California, office.

Environ is an international consulting company that offers technical analysis on a broad range of scientific disciplines, including engineering, public heath, and regulatory affairs.

“I don’t know when I got over believing that there’d be some point at which I knew what I wanted to be when I grew up,” Whipple says, “but I’m over it.”

An Anecdote

“The first weekend of my freshman year, I met my wife, Fran, on a blind date,” Whipple says. “She was a biology major from St. Louis, and we went to a big show in the music hall after a football game. Freshman women still had hours in those days, and it was a little bit of an issue getting her back to the dorm on time because she had a broken leg having to do with an accident involving a swimming hole and a rope and shallow water. But we hit it off and had a date every day our freshman year and pretty much every day from then on. Then we got married instead of going to graduation.” Fran got her teaching credentials after graduation, tutors math and chemistry, and does volunteer work as a Braillist, specializing in math.

Their son, Matt Whipple, graduated from Purdue with a degree in physics in 1995.

2004 Appointed by a federal judge to a study group to investigate mercury contamination in sediments of the Penobscot River in Maine
2001 Appointed to the National Academy of Sciences Board on Environmental Studies and Toxicology
2001 Elected to the National Academy of Engineering
2000 Left ICF Kaiser and joined ENVIRON International as a Principal
1997-99 Chaired a peer review of the proposed Yucca Mountain radioactive waste repository performance assessment
1995 Elected to the National Council on Radiation Protections and Measurements, re-elected 2001
1990 Left EPRI to join Clement Associates as Vice President and Manager of their San Francisco office
1985-95 Appointed to the National Academy of Sciences Board on Radioactive Waste Management (chair, 1992-95)
1983-87 Chaired the International Atomic Energy Agency; coordinated research program on risk criteria for the nuclear fuel cycle
1980 Helped found the Society for Risk Analysis; elected as 2nd president, 1982-83; received outstanding service award 1990
1978-79 Lecturer, Mechanical Engineering, Stanford University
1978-83 Taught a course on risk analysis for college teachers for National Science Foundation and AAAS
1974 Joined the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI)

BSES ’70, Purdue University
MSES ’71, PhD ’74, California Institute of Technology