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Molinaroli College of Engineering and Computing

  • Chemical Engineering Professor Ralph White

ECS student research award named in honor of Ralph White

The list of awards and recognitions for Chemical Engineering Professor and Westinghouse Distinguished Scientist Ralph White is seemingly endless. But White was not the recipient of an award at the Electrochemical Society (ECS) annual meeting this past May. Instead, a student award was named in his honor.

This year’s ECS meeting in Boston included a symposium, “Multiscale Modeling, Simulation and Design: In Honor of Ralph White,” which was co-organized by College of Engineering and Computing (CEC) alum Venkat Subramanian and several of White’s former students and colleagues. At a reception to celebrate White’s 80th birthday, it was announced that his name will now be attached to the “Industrial Electrochemistry & Electrochemical Engineering Division Ralph E. White Outstanding Student Award.” It is the first, and possibly only, ECS student award with an individual’s name attached.

“It was a complete surprise. Venkat did say that a group, including himself, were putting together a symposium for me and my 80th birthday, which is pretty common. But I had no idea about this student award,” White says.

The Ralph E. White Outstanding Student Award will recognize promising young engineers and scientists in the field of modeling and simulation of electrochemical systems, such as batteries, corrosion, sensors and fuel cells. The award honors White’s contribution to the field of mathematical modeling and numerical simulation of electrochemical systems and training of graduate students in the field. 

“I simply come up with ideas that I think might be useful to pursue. But the students are usually more capable of pursuing them better than me, and we publish papers based on their findings,” White says. “I try to push my students to do things on their own and develop new ideas to contribute to the knowledge base.”

Venkat is one of White’s former students and earned his Ph.D. in chemical engineering from the CEC in 2001. He is currently the Ernest Dashiell Cockrell II Professor of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Texas at Austin Cockrell School of Engineering. 

“I was pleased to propose, initiate and work with many of Dr. White's students, well-wishers, and the ECS to start a new IEEE division student award in honor of him,” Venkat says. “My father would ask me, 'What have you done for your advisor?'”

Venkat needed approval at different committees within the ECS to have White’s name attached to the student award, but the ECS was helpful in setting up the name. 

A reception was hosted in White’s honor during the ECS meeting. It was sponsored by three different divisions in ECS: Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers division, battery division and energy technology division. The energy technology division is chaired by Chemical Engineering Professor William Mustain, who also serves as the CEC associate dean for research. 

“Ralph White is one of the godfathers of electrochemical modeling. His work has had an immeasurably huge impact on the fundamental understanding and practical design of electrochemical systems,” Mustain says. “There are very few people alive who have had an impact on our field as Ralph. Most people would consider their career a success if they had a tenth of the success that he has had.”

White has authored more than 350 scientific journal articles, including more than 250 for the ECS. He has mentored numerous graduate students and postdocs who now serve in leadership positions in academia and worldwide industries in electrochemistry and other disciplines.

“It's humbling to have my name attached to this award because it means that my name will be there in perpetuity as long as the ECS exists,” White says. “My dream is that people will build on what I have accomplished with my students.”

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