Willis Harmon Ray is an American chemical engineer, control theorist, applied mathematician, and a Vilas Research emeritus professor at the University of Wisconsin–Madison notable for being the 2000 winner of the prestigious Richard E. Bellman Control Heritage Award and the 2019 winner of the Neal Amundson Award.
He attained 80 years of age in 2020 at a time when his numerous students and mentees across the globe could not assemble for a celebration, no thanks to covid-19 pandemic. They however gathered online recently to give to Prof Ray due accolades for his scholarship, leadership, and mentorship.
At the center of this was accomplished professor of chemical engineering, Prof Ayodele Francis Ogunye, who told the audience of about a hundred and forty academic and business leaders, most of them world class chemical engineers, that Prof Willis Harmon Ray is “a kind and trustful man in whose name a perpetual endowment was established at the University of Lagos”.
Ayo Ogunye was the first post graduate student of Prof Ray back in sixties at University of Waterloo.
Three scholarly presentations, all by former students and associates of the celebrant topped the bill of the event.
Prof Adesoji Adesina, a recipient of the Nigerian National Order of Merit (NNOM) and Fellow of the Nigerian Academy of Engineering, who used various Ray’s equations as illumination to understanding nonlinearities in chemical reaction engineering, described Prof. Ray as a pioneering facilitator of the process mathematics-experimental partnership, and he actually slit his presentation into the illuminated space created by Professor Harmon Ray’s Shakespearean contributions over a 5-decade career to the chemical engineering literature, especially the area of nonlinear reactor analysis. The Ray corpus, he said, remains a shining star in the constellation of chemical engineering luminaries, guiding succeeding generations into realms unknown well into and beyond the 21st century. That was after using several of Ray’s equations to explain significant breakthroughs in optimal reactor design and non-linear reactor analysis.
Prof Babatunde Ogunnaike, a William L. Friend Chaired Professor of Chemical Engineering at the University of Delaware, USA, himself a product of Harmon Ray took a cursory profile of Prof Ray’s journey and contributions via his works at Universities of Waterloo, New York at Buffalo, and Wisconsin-Madison during which he produced 53 PhDs and 30 Masters students all behind his first PhD student, Prof Ayo Ogunye who established the Chemical Engineering Department of the University of Lagos. Many of them are now occupying key positions in industry, research, manufacturing, and government administration across the world. Ogunnaike concluded that “Perhaps Harmon’s best quality is his ability to perform at the highest level yet remain one of the most modest and honorable gentlemen you will ever meet.”
Dr Derin Adebekun, of Corporate Process Safety Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany who spoke on Polymer Reactor Engineering dwelt richly on the dynamics of homogenous polymerization systems and the place of Prof Ray’s rich works on these processes and also showed how Ray’s works are instrumental in the understanding of modeling, dynamics, design and control of polymerization processes.
What stood clear in all the testimonies is that Harmon Ray focused on research applicable to industrial problems. Over the years, he built up consulting relationships with many in industry, bringing his expertise in reaction engineering and process control to bear on solving costly problems.
In February 2016, Prof Ray wrote a letter to the Vice Chancellor of the University of Lagos to say:
“For a half-century I have had the benefit of extraordinary students from Nigeria work with me for their PhD studies. My first PhD student after I became a faculty member in 1966 at the University of Waterloo in Canada was Ayodele F. Ogunye, whom I think you know. Later, a number of other outstanding students from Nigeria joined my research group at the University of Wisconsin, including Babatunde A. Ogunnaike, who is currently Dean of Engineering at the University of Delaware in the US. Presently, I am retired and closing my research activities. Thus, I no longer need my extensive personal library (~ 900 technical books covering chemistry, polymer science, mathematics, chemical engineering, automatic control, and optimization).
I would like to donate these books to the University of Lagos if they would be of interest to your university. Attached, as a PDF document, is a list of these books. Please let me know if these would be of interest to the University of Lagos”.
This was how the University of Lagos inherited his library of 900 books. The books had been catalogued in the Library of the Department of Chemical Engineering and Petroleum Engineering at the UNILAG.
“When you know that he is from Texas, you can make your own judgment of Prof. Ray. HE IS NON-RACIST”. – Prof Ayo Francis Ogunye.
What more can I say.
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