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Photo of James Dumesic
March 8, 2021

Journal article honors the influential legacy of Professor Emeritus James Dumesic

Written By: Jason Daley

Professor Emeritus James Dumesic has had a storied career, most of it at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Now, a recent paper in the journal ACS Catalysis written by former graduate students details just how consequential Dumesic’s work is. The paper, titled “A Career in Catalysis: James A. Dumesic” details Dumesic’s many research breakthroughs during his 43-year academic journey as a faculty member of the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering.

The career retrospective, a rare honor, is richly deserved says Manos Mavrikakis, the Paul A. Elfers, James A. Dumesic, and Vilas Distinguished Achievement Professor in chemical and biological engineering.

“Jim Dumesic is one of the most influential scientists in the history of heterogeneous catalysis,” Mavrikakis says. “He revolutionized the field of catalysis by doing groundbreaking work in fundamental catalysis, including the genesis of microkinetic modeling, but also applied catalysis by developing the foundations of biomass conversion to fuels and chemicals. All in all, a brilliant individual the catalysis and chemical engineering communities were fortunate to have in their ranks for several decades.”

The co-authors of the paper are a who’s who of former students, including one of his first, Professor Bruce Tatarchuk of Auburn University as well as Professor Josephine Hill at the University of Calgary, MIT Professor Yuriy Roman-Leshkov and UW-Madison CBE’s own Richard L. Antoine Professor George Huber, among others. Each was tasked with writing about a different period of Dumesic’s work in the field of heterogenous catalysis.

Those achievements include probing the nature of active sites on heterogeneous catalysts using advanced techniques and kinetic analysis to elucidate the “strong metal support interaction” effect. He developed new microcalorimetric tools to measure the energetics of adsorbates on catalyst surfaces and developed new microkinetic models.

Dumesic also developed aqueous-phase catalytic processing of biomass-derived oxygenates, which led to processes to make diesel and jet fuel, gasoline and other chemicals from renewable resources, a field of research that is still a focus at UW-Madison.

Carl Lund, currently the chair of the Department of Engineering Education and professor of chemical and biological engineering at the University at Buffalo, was one of Dumesic’s first graduate students and is a co-author of the paper.

“Jim has been a trend-setter in the field of catalysis,” he says. “Repeatedly he has developed new methods, such as microkinetic modeling, or moved into a new research arena, such as biomass-related catalysis, and within a few years use of the method or study in that arena has become widespread within the catalysis research community as they try to catch up with Jim.”

Dumesic is continuing his research legacy at the University of Wisconsin-Madison as an active emeritus faculty member. In November 2019, the College of Engineering celebrated Dumesic’s achievements and retirement with a two-day Olaf A. Hougen Symposium attended by many of his former students.