Department of

Chemical Engineering

Designing molecular technology for the 21st century with biology and chemistry


To Previous Page


Dr. John Larry Duda

May 11, 1936 - September 24, 2006




Dr. John Larry Duda, 70, passed away quietly at home with his family around him on September 24, 2006, after a valiant battle with pancreatic cancer.

Dr. Duda, or Larry to his friends and family, was born May 11, 1936, in Donora, PA to John Duda Jr., who preceded him in death, and Nell Tihansky Duda, who survives. He graduated from Donora High School in 1954, Case Western Reserve University with a bachelor's degree in chemical engineering in 1958, and received his Doctorate of Philosophy in chemical engineering from the University of Delaware in 1963.

On January 27, 1962, Dr. Duda married Margaret Kathleen Barbalich, whom he met at a lecture on the novel Dr. Zhivago given by their mutual Russian professor. She survives her husband, along with four children, Dr. John Duda and his wife Dr. Lisa Medvetz and their daughters Marley and Johanna, David Duda and his wife Lauren Mollow and their daughters Skyler and Brooke, Paul Duda, and Dr. Laura Duda and her husband Dr. Michael Banach and their children, Sydney, Alexandra, and Ty. In addition, Larry is also survived by a sister, Jonell Comerford, two nephews and a niece.

After graduating from the University of Delaware, he joined the Dow Chemical Company in Midland, Michigan. It was there that he and Margaret had their four children in three and a half years. As a member of Dow's Process Fundamentals Group, he began his long and successful collaboration with Dr. James Vrentas in the areas of diffusion of polymers. Dr. Duda also worked on designing the insulation system for the trans-Alaskan pipeline and the patented system consisting of insulation and a latent heat-storage component to keep the pipeline from melting the permafrost in the summer.

In 1971, Dr. Duda decided to move to academia in order to more freely pursue his research interests and became a faculty member in the chemical engineering department at Penn State. Eventually, he accepted the position of department head and distinguished himself recruiting new faculty, enhancing the department's research activities in emerging areas of biotechnology and computer simulations, and improving the research visibility of the department. He stepped down after 17 years to devote more time to his research, his graduate students, and his teaching. It was also during this time that he began to co-direct the Center for the Study of Polymeric Systems with Dr. Ronald Danner, and continued in this capacity until his death.

Throughout his career Dr. Duda made significant contributions to the areas of transport processes, the involvement of polymeric materials, the attempt to bring order and qualification to complex areas dominated by quantitative studies, the emphasis on translating the results from fundamentals studies into implemental engineering solutions, and the strong record of collaboration with numerous colleagues. With his experience in both industry and education, Dr. Duda served as an active voice for academic interests to industry. He served as a member of the Council for Chemical Research for more than 10 years and eventually as a member of its Governing Board. He also served on the Council for Chemical Research Committee on Industrial College Relations and as their liaison with the National Science Foundation. He was also a member of the Academic Advisory Council of Dow Chemical and had served on the Managing Board of the Council of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers.

At Penn State, Dr. Duda excelled as a teacher and his impact was widespread. He advised approximately seventy Master's degree students and forty-five PhD students and taught hundreds of undergraduates in his thirty-five years at Penn State. He was awarded the Premier Research Award given by the The Pennsylvania State Engineering Society and the Outstanding Professor Award given by Penn Sate undergraduate students in chemical engineering. He also published over 200 papers in world renowned professional journals with his colleagues and graduate students, and co-authored three papers in Chemical Engineering Education with his wife Margaret.

Not one to let anything hold him back, Larry would admit that he was dyslexic on the first day of class and ask his students to correct him when he made a mistake. If they found one, he treated it with humor rather than considering it a handicap and helped many others deal with this unique condition.

Nationally, Dr. Duda's work was recognized by many of the highest awards in his field. He was the co-recipient of the William H. Walker Award (with Dr. James Vrentas), and the Warren K. Lewis Award, both from the American Institute of Chemical Engineers. He also received the Charles M. A. Stine Award from the Materials Division of the AICHE. He was given the Chemical Engineering Division Lecturer Award by the American Society of Engineering Education and the E. V. Murphree Award in Industrial Engineering Chemistry.

In 1998, Dr. Duda's achievements in research and engineering education were acknowledged by his election to the National Academy of Engineering. Earlier this spring, Larry's lifetime achievement was recognized with a two million dollar endowment award to the department of chemical engineering at Penn State. The award, named the Dow Chemical Company and Larry Duda Excellence in Chemical Engineering Fund, will support research and instruction programs through the department.

Despite all of his accomplishments, Dr. Duda was probably best known for his great sense of humor and his pride in his family and his students. He helped to enrich the lives of many College Heights boys by helping to start Boy Scout Troop 322 and remaining an active contributor to the Boy Scouting Community until all 3 of his sons achieved the rank of Eagle Scout. He loved nature, reading history and religious studies, music, art, traveling, and playing tennis. Family gatherings at the Duda homestead were always a time to celebrate life and love and he truly cherished time spent with his wife, children and grandchildren. He was a simple man who recognized that the little things in life we all take for granted are the most precious, and enjoyed few things more than a quiet repose on the patio of the house where he and his wife Margaret have resided since first coming to State College.

A private funeral service will be held at the convenience of the family but a Memorial service to celebrate his life will be held on Oct. 8 from 2-4 p.m. at the Pasquerilla Spiritual Center on the Penn State campus. A reception will follow at the Nittany Lion Inn from 4:30 to 6:30.

In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to the
J. L. Duda Undergraduate Research Awards Fund.

  • J. L. Duda Undergraduate Research Awards Fund
  • c/o Andrew Zydney
  • Dept. of Chemical Engineering
  • 158 Fenske Lab
  • University Park, PA 16802

Top of page