Professor emeritus Adel Sarofim SM ’57, ScD ’62 dies at 77

Adel F. Sarofim, a professor emeritus in the Department of Chemical Engineering, died Dec. 4 in Virginia. He was 77.

Focusing on energy efficiency and pollution reduction, Sarofim spent more than 50 years working on combustion science, which led to advances in the reduction of pollutants released from fossil fuel combustion. His research covered radiative heat transfer, furnace design, circulation patterns in glass melts, the freeze process for desalination, nitric oxide formation in combustion systems, combustion-generated aerosols, soot and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon formation, and the characterization of carbon structure and reactivity.

Working closely with MIT colleague Hoyt C. Hottel, Sarofim made important and lasting contributions to the field of radiation heat transfer, as evidenced by more than 1,200 citations of their book, Radiative Heat Transfer, published in 1967.

A particular focus of Sarofim’s work was on energy and the environment and the interdisciplinary research needed to address these issues. As such, at MIT he served on steering committees for three interdisciplinary research centers: the Hazardous Substances Group, the Energy Laboratory and the Center for Environmental Health Sciences. He was also co-founder and director of MIT’s 10-year EPA Center for Airborne Organics (1992-2002).

He received his BA in chemistry from Oxford University in the U.K., and both his SM and ScD in chemical engineering at MIT. Sarofim was named an instructor at MIT in 1958, became a faculty member in 1961, and was named the Lammot du Pont Professor in 1989. He retired in 1996 to join the University of Utah as Presidential Professor, a ranking “reserved for selected individuals whose achievements exemplify the highest goals of scholarship as demonstrated by recognition accorded to them from peers with national and international stature, and whose record includes evidence of a high dedication to teaching.” He has authored or co-authored more than 350 papers.

According to colleagues, Sarofim always said the best indication of scholarship was students and publications. His more than 350 peer-reviewed papers and documents have had almost 5,000 citations. In addition to his teaching responsibilities, he supervised and mentored more than 80 PhD students, many of whom currently hold prestigious academic, industrial and governmental positions.

Sarofim received numerous awards for his work including the Kuwait Prize for Petrochemical Engineering (1983); the Sir Alfred Egerton Gold Medal from the Combustion Institute (1984); the Walter Ahlstrom Environmental Prize of the Finnish Academies of Technology (1993); Senior Thermal Engineering and the Towend-BCURA Awards of the Institute of Energy (1994); University of Pittsburgh Award for Innovation in Coal Conversion (1995); U.S. Department of Energy Homer H. Lowry Award in Fossil Energy (1996); American Society of Mechanical Engineers, Fuels and Combustion Technology Division, Percy Nicholls Award (1996); American Institute of Chemical Engineers, Environmental Division, Lawrence K. Cecil Award (1998); American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, Energy Systems Award (2000); and the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, George Westinghouse Gold Medal (2004). In 2003 Sarofim was elected to the National Academy of Engineering “for advancing our understanding of the mechanisms and modeling of processes that control radiation in and pollution emission from combustors.”

His 1996 U.S. Department of Energy Homer H. Lowry Award citation reflects well the sentiments of his colleagues, students and friends: "Adel Sarofim is a compassionate human being who inspires students and colleagues, and who contributes significantly across the full spectrum from fundamental science through real-world design concepts."

The family has requested that gifts be directed to the Adel F. Sarofim (1962) Fund at MIT. Those wishing to send checks can mail them to Bonny Kellermann, MIT Memorial Gifts Office, 600 Memorial Drive (W98), 5th Floor, Cambridge MA 02139.

Read more at the University of Utah site

Topics: Alumni/ae, Books and authors, Chemistry and chemical engineering, Education, teaching, academics, Faculty, Obituaries


Adel was my instructor in the Course X Practice School in 1957 - 1958 Session. He was an understanding teacher who helped me develop rational thinking.

I still remember him encouraging me to think through problems in the Lackawanna Steel Co. in Buffallo as we studied the Open Hearth furnaces. I learned of his dintisguished career in his obituary.


Henri Slezynger BSc'57, MSc '58

Adel was a scholar, a renaissance man, and a mensch.
As a Freshman, he offered me a UROP project: Computing The Energy Balance of the MIT Power Plant. I would meet with him three times a week during IAP. He was patient, encouraging, and compassionate. He would listen to what I have to say, and help me articulate. He was generous with his knowledge, and he elevated me. I took pride in being his one-on-one UROP advisee.
Beyond the technical, Adel was super cultured and multilingual. We held a few discussions about history, languages, and art.
Finally, and most important, he was a mensch, a decent and humble human being who cared so much for his students. Whenever I met him in the corridors of MIT, he would always show interest in my progress. He does not forget his students, and I can never forget him.
Professors like Adel are rare indeed !

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