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Professor Emeritus Charles N. Satterfield ’46

Professor Emeritus Charles N. SatterfieldProfessor Emeritus Charles N. Satterfield passed away on Monday, March 14, 2011, at the age of 89. Satterfield was a world leader in heterogeneous catalysis and, in 2008, was named by AIChE as one of its 100 Chemical Engineers of the Modern Era, recognized for his work in chemical reaction engineering, including trickle beds, slurry reactors, heterogeneous catalysis; Fischer-Tropsch synthesis and catalytic hydrotreating. He was a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, recipient of the AIChE Wilhelm Award, and named in 1987 as one of the 20 “top scientists” in chemical engineering by the Science Studies Unit of the University of Leiden. He was author or co-author of five books and 150 technical papers.

Satterfield attended Harvard College as one of their first National Scholars. Graduating from there cum laude in chemistry in 1942, he moved down the river to MIT where he earned MSCEP in 1943 and ScD in 1946 in Chemical Engineering.

Professor Satterfield and a graduate student show a high pressure micro reactor Professor Satterfield and a graduate student show a high pressure micro reactor

March 1976: Professor Satterfield and a graduate student show a high pressure micro reactor.
(courtesy of the MIT Museum)

His early research centered around the chemistry and manufacture of hydrogen peroxide, and his book on this chemical published in 1955, still remains the primary authoritative reference. Satterfield joined the MIT faculty in 1946 and did early work on rocket propulsion, publishing a two-volume set of books entitled “Thermodynamic Charts on Rocket Propulsion” with Professors Williams and Hottel. There is no doubt that his greatest contributions were in the field of industrial catalysis where he was the leading academic authority for well over two decades. He authored several books on this topic including: “Mass Transfer in Heterogeneous Catalysis” in 1963 and “Heterogeneous Catalysis in Practice” in 1980. The second addition of the latter book, retitled as “Heterogeneous Catalysis in Industrial Practice”, was published in 1991 and became the classic, authoritative reference for this important field. His research program educated a generation of leaders in reaction engineering and catalysis. Satterfield’s teaching was thoughtful with an emphasis on real and important problems in the world, which made his subject offerings among the most popular in the department while he was a faculty member.

Charles N. Satterfield in 1947

Charles N. Satterfield
in 1947