Enrique Iglesia

Born: August 27, 1954 | Havana, CU

Enrique Iglesia was born in Havana, Cuba; his family then moved to Mexico, where they lived for six months while awaiting papers to enter the United States. Iglesia matriculated at Princeton University intending to major in chemical engineering; he had summer internships at Exxon, after which he became interested in catalysis. He chose Stanford for his PhD and began research in Michel Boudart's group, working on the applicability of model systems to real-world catalysis. After he completed his degree, he accepted a job offer from Exxon and soon advanced to the position of section head, supervising about fifty scientists and support staff. Ready to return to academia he accepted University of California, Berkeley's offer; he also became a consultant to Catalytic Associates. Iglesia participated in a BP-organized collaboration of scientists from Caltech and Berkeley, called Methane Conversion Cooperative, which lasted ten years. Since then he has started a new, smaller, group, the X Conversion Cooperative, which has reached its fifth year. In recent years, Iglesia's group has been working on Fischer-Tropsch synthesis, as well as other reactions of C 1 molecules, such as carbonylation and tripane synthesis. In addition, Chevron Corporation has been funding research into zeolites, which the Cooperative has learned to form around a precursor and van der Waals interactions and he has been co-editor in chief of the Journal of Catalysis.

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Interview Details

Interview no.: Oral History 0830
No. of pages: 98
Minutes: 284

Interview Sessions

Hilary Domush
27-28 January 2014
University of California, Berkeley, Berkeley, California

Abstract of Interview

Enrique Iglesia was born in Havana, Cuba, one of two children. The family lived in Havana until Enrique was about fourteen years old; he was then approaching military age, at which time he would not be allowed to leave the country, so they moved to Mexico, where they lived for six months, awaiting papers to enter the United States. In Miami, Florida, Enrique's intellectual abilities were recognized, and he was placed in advanced courses in math and science, and he also took college-level math classes at Florida International University. Iglesia entered Princeton University because of his math teacher's recommendation, intending to major in chemical engineering, and he found the education there excellent. John Weikart of Exxon Corporation began to recruit him. Iglesia had summer internships at Exxon and became interested in catalysis. He entered Stanford for a PhD and began research right away in Michel Boudart's group, working on the applicability of model systems to real-world catalysis. Iglesia married at the end of his first year in graduate school and by the end of his PhD, they were expecting their first child, so Iglesia needed to have a job. He accepted Exxon, expecting to return to academia eventually, and they moved to New Jersey. Iglesia advanced to the position of section head, supervising about fifty scientists and support staff, and found the science to be first rate. He also taught a seminar at Stanford during several summers. Ready to return to academia he accepted University of California, Berkeley's offer and also became a consultant to Catalytic Associates. He and Fabio Ribeiro worked together at the start and his research on membrane thin films continuing a project of Heinz Heinemann, the "father of organized catalysis." BP organized a collaboration of scientists from Caltech and Berkeley, a small group called Methane Conversion Cooperative, that lasted ten years and worked on gas conversion. Iglesia promoted thinking over excessive use of technology; he wanted to see real-world materials under real conditions, not just in models. He has started a new, smaller, group, the X Conversion Cooperative, which has reached its fifth year and continues beyond. His group has been working on Fischer-Tropsch synthesis again, as well as other reactions of C1 molecules, such as carbonylation and tripane synthesis. In addition, Chevron Corporation has been funding research into zeolites, which the Cooperative has learned to form around a precursor, and van der Waals interactions, and auto manufacturers have supported research into exhaust problems. He has also been co-editor in chief of the Journal of Catalysis;. During his interview, Iglesia mentions many other scientists who have been important in his career and describes some of their work. He talks about liking teaching, though he finds that working with the different personalities of students can be challenging. Iglesia says that academia provides freedom to do what interests him. He analogizes a scientist's students and their students to a family "bloodline." Iglesia says that predicting too far in advance can narrow one's vision. Iglesia is proud of his family, of having close friends, and that he is still learning things.

Education

Year Institution Degree Discipline
1977 Princeton University BS Chemical Engineering
1979 Stanford University MS Chemical Engineering
1982 Stanford University PhD Chemical Engineering

Professional Experience

Exxon Research and Engineering Company

1982 to 1993
Corporate Research Laboratories Research Associate, Section Head, Catalysis Science

Stanford University

1988 to 1993
Consulting Professor of Chemical Engineering

E.O. Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory

1993
Faculty Senior Scientist, Chemical Sciences Division

University of California, Berkeley

1993
Professor of Chemical Engineering
1999
Director, Berkeley Catalysis Center
2006 to 2009
Chancellor Professor of Chemical Engineering
2009
Theodore Vermeulen Chair in Chemical Engineering

Honors

Year(s) Award
1976

Tau Beta Pi, Princeton Chapter President, 1976-77

1977

Silver Medal of the Royal Society of Arts, Princeton University

1977

Phi Beta Kappa

1992

Golden Tiger Award, Annual Exxon Award for: "Leadership and Outstanding Contributions in Catalytic Science and Technology"

1995 to 1996

American Institute of Chemical Engineers Award for Chemical Engineering Excellence in Academic Teaching, California Chapter

1997

Paul H. Emmett Award in Fundamental Catalysis; North American Catalysis Society

1998

Award for Excellence in Catalysis and Eminent Visitor Award, Chemical Society of South Africa

1999

Best Teacher Award, Berkeley Chapter, American Institute of Chemical Engineers

1999

Richard H. Wilhelm Award in Chemical Reaction Engineering, American Institute of Chemical Engineers

2004

Award for Excellence in Natural Gas Conversion

2005

George A. Olah Award in Hydrocarbon Chemistry, American Chemical Society

2005

Donald Sterling Noyce Prize for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching, University of California

2006

Robert Burwell Lectureship Award, North American Catalysis Society

2007

Humboldt Senior Scientist Research Award, Alexander von Humboldt Foundation

2007

Doctor Honoris Causa, Universidad Politecnica de Valencia, Chile

2008

National Academy of Engineering

2009

Tanabe Prize in Acid-Base Catalysis

2010

Fellow, American Chemical Society

2010

Best Teacher Award, College of Chemistry, University of California at Berkeley

2011

Francois Gault Lectureship Award, European Federation of Catalysis Societies

2011

Alpha Chi Sigma Institute Award, American Institute of Chemical Engineers

2011

Cross Canada Lecturer, Chemical Institute of Canada

2012

ENI Prize, New Frontiers in Hydrocarbons

2012

Gabor Somorjai Award for Creative Research in Catalysis, American Chemical Society

2013

Fellow, Japan Society for the Promotion of Science

2013

Honorary Fellow, Chinese Chemical Society

2014

Fellow, American Institute of Chemical Engineers

Table of Contents

Biographical Information
1

Born Havana, Cuba. Father came from small village in Galicia; worked in dry cleaning while employed. One younger sister. Communist revolution. First to be educated past junior high school; did well in school. Aunt and uncle encouraged education. Conscription at age fourteen and a half. Left for Mexico, no guarantee of work or permission to enter United States. Six months of labor; then to Miami, Florida. Advanced math classes at Florida International University. Advanced Placement classes in science and math in high school. Met future wife in high school chemistry class.

College Years
13

Math teacher recommended Princeton University. Good undergraduate education; worked hard; had highest grade point average in class when he finished. Already being recruited by John Weikart. William Russel from Stanford University. Interested in surface chemistry; wanted catalysis because of two summer internships at Exxon Corporation, one in Baytown, Texas, and other in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

Graduate School Years
22

Chose Stanford University. Good graduate education. Drove Dodge to school; broke down in Arizona. Henry Taube. Michel Boudart his advisor let him begin research at once. Paul Emmett and heterocatalysis. Eight or nine in group, all very good. End of first year married; wife a night shift nurse at Stanford Hospital. Worked on applicability of model systems to real-world catalysis; dissertation challenged the role of model systems in realistic catalysis. Finished in less than four years; wife expecting child. Weikart still recruiting.

Exxon Years
35

Chose industry supposedly for five years; began at Exxon in Linden, then Annandale, New Jersey. First child born shortly after move. Exxon diversifying into electronics as oil supply thought to be depleted. Advancing in administration; section head over fifty scientists and support staff. Exxon Valdez. Fewer publications. Science excellent, but wanted to return to academia. Spent portion of some summers at Stanford, giving seminar. Liked teaching.

Back to Academia
41

Best offer from University of Delaware; also inquiries and then offers from Stanford and University of California, Berkeley. Boudart retiring from Stanford. Chose Berkeley. Financially difficult for first two years; then joined Catalytica Inc. as consultant. Eleven years' work at Exxon sound and fundamental. Stuart Soled and Sebastian Reyes. Gas conversion using Fischer-Tropsch synthesis. Rostam Madon. Joseph Baumgartner. George Meitzner. Spectroscopy. Zeolites; sulfur reduction. Worked on membrane thin films with Heinz Heinemann. Liked teaching, pretty good at it, but challenging to mentor young people. Inherited lab, had to refit it. Heinz Heinemann, father of organized catalysis gave him membrane project. National Science Foundation funding; Department of Energy project. Co-editor-in-chief of Journal of Catalysis. Alexis Bell and spectroscopy. Oxygen activation.

Continuing Work
66

BP organized Methane Conversion Cooperative with Berkeley and California Institute of Technology (Caltech). Junmei Wei. Graham Butler, Theo Fleisch. Carbonylation gave unexpected results. Promotes thinking over excessive use of technology. X Conversion Cooperative, for five years; began Fischer-Tropsch work again; triptane. Aldol concentration. Many graduates and postdocs to Chevron Corporation and to academic positions. Zeolites and van der Waals interactions funded by Chevron for eight years. Publishing and patenting. Funding from auto manufacturers for exhaust problems. NO and NO2. Brian Weiss. Basic research. Molecules. Björn Modén, Bi-Zeng Zhan and auto-oxidation. Building zeolites around precursors.

Some General Thoughts
87

Working with different personalities of students. Academia leaves one free to choose work. Alexander Katz and Justin Notestein. Evolution of his group. Academic progeny analogous to family bloodline. He is now academic grandfather to his students' students. Does not like to predict too far ahead; predictions narrow possibilities. Proudest of his actual family, proud to be married still to same woman. Proud of having long-term, close friends. Proud that he is still learning.

Index
96

About the Interviewer

Hilary Domush

Hilary Domush was a Program Associate in the Center for Oral History at CHF from 2007–2015. Previously, she earned a BS in chemistry from Bates College in Lewiston, Maine in 2003.  She then completed an MS in chemistry and an MA in history of science both from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.  Her graduate work in the history of science focused on early nineteenth-century chemistry in the city of Edinburgh, while her work in the chemistry was in a total synthesis laboratory.  At CHF, she worked on projects such as the Pew Biomedical Scholars, Women in Chemistry, Atmospheric Science, and Catalysis.