November 10, 2017
The Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering was pleased to welcome back to campus Dr. John “Jack” McWhirter, BS ’59, for the 2017 Distinguished Alumni Lecture on Thursday, Nov. 9.
In 2011, the American Institute of Chemical Engineers recognized McWhirter as one of the 100 preeminent chemical engineers of the modern era for his invention, development and commercialization of the UNOX wastewater treatment system while at Union Carbide in the late 1960’s and 1970’s. These systems account for about 35 percent of the total U.S. secondary wastewater treatment capacity.
McWhirter spoke about his career, and specifically about how he developed the UNOX High Purity Oxygen Activated Sludge wastewater treatment system.
McWhirter is a Collinsville, Illinois, native who was the first in his family to obtain a college degree. After graduating with his BS in Chemical Engineering from the University of Illinois, he attended graduate school at Penn State, earning his MS in 1961 and PhD in 1962. After working at DuPont for a few years, he joined Union Carbide where he rose through the ranks over the next 20 years and became vice president. In 1986, he joined the Penn State faculty and taught there until 2000. Dr. McWhirter is also an entrepreneur, having founded Copper Beech, a student housing development company, with his wife Jeanette. They sold the company in 2014.
“A ChemE degree will prepare you to do anything in life you want to do and you’ll be able to do a good job of it,” McWhirter said.