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In Memoriam: Octave Levenspiel (1926-2017)

Octave “Tavy” Levenspiel, emeritus professor of chemical engineering at Oregon State University, died peacefully at the age of 90 on March 5, 2017, at the Willamette View Retirement Community in Portland, Oregon, where he had lived for several years. 

A pioneer in the field of chemical reaction engineering, Levenspiel became, in 2000, the first Oregon State faculty member to be elected into the National Academy of Engineering, the country’s highest distinction for engineers in both academia and industry.

Levenspiel’s career spanned more than four decades, yielding hundreds of peer-reviewed journal publications and a half-dozen authoritative textbooks. His groundbreaking book Chemical Reaction Engineering, first published in 1961, has been cited more than 11,000 times and has been translated into more languages than any other volume in the literature of chemical engineering. 

Born in 1926, in Shanghai, China, Levenspiel attended a German kindergarten, an English primary and secondary school, and a French university before sailing to the United States in 1946 to complete his undergraduate studies. He finished his bachelor’s degree in chemistry at the University of California, Berkeley, in 1947. 

He then came to Oregon State University, where he earned his master’s degree in 1949, and his doctorate in 1952, both in chemical engineering. Upon graduating, after getting married to Mary Jo Smiley, he accepted his first faculty appointment. His university teaching career would eventually take him to Bucknell University in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, then to Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago, and finally, back to Oregon State University, with two sabbaticals spent in Cambridge, England. He retired in 1991 but continued writing and editing his textbooks, including the third edition of Chemical Reaction Engineering (1999), Rambling Through Science and Technology (2009), and Tracer Technology (2012).

Levenspiel is survived by his wife of 65 years, Mary Jo, two of his three children, Morris and Bekki (husband, Keith Levien), and his three grandsons, Kyle, Cody, and Quincy Levien. He was preceded in death by his son Barney, who died in 2003. 

More information is available from the family’s website at levenspiel.com, where visitors are invited to share tributes and memories.