Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at Illinois

In Memoriam: John A. Quinn, BS ’54, former faculty member

John A. Quinn, Illinois chemical engineering graduate and faculty member from 1958 to 1971, passed away on Monday, February 8. John Quinn’s distinguished career in chemical and biomolecular engineering spanned over 50 years, during which he played a leadership role in research, education, and institutional and professional service.

John A. Quinn
John A. Quinn

In the course of his pioneering research on mass transfer and interfacial phenomena, Dr. Quinn and his students devised a number of simple yet elegant experiments to elucidate the role of the interface in transfer between phases. In later years, his work focused on problems relating to bioengineering and biotechnology, to transport through synthetic membranes, and to the application of membranes in chemical processes and in systems of medical and biological relevance. He is author or co-author of about 100 research papers and review articles.

Dr. Quinn received his B.S. degree in Chemical Engineering from the University of Illinois in 1954 and his Ph.D. from Princeton University in 1958, when he returned to Illinois to join the faculty. In 1971 he moved to the University of Pennsylvania and in 1978 he was named the first recipient of the Robert D. Bent endowed professorship. He served as Penn’s Chairman of the Department from 1980 to 1985. Among other appointments, he held an NSF senior postdoctoral fellowship and was visiting professor at Imperial College, London, visiting scientist at MIT, Sherman Fairchild Scholar at Caltech, and visiting professor at the University of Rome.

In recognition of his research contributions, Dr. Quinn received the Colburn Award of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers in 1966 and the Institute’s Alpha Chi Sigma Award in 1978. He delivered the Mason Lectures at Stanford, the Katz Lectureship at Michigan and the Reilly Lectures at Notre Dame. He was elected to membership in the National Academy of Engineering in 1978 and to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1992. He was the inaugural 1995 Alan S. Michaels Lecturer in Biological and Biomedical Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology as well as Carnegie Mellon University’s 1997 Distinguished Research Lecturer in Chemical Engineering. He served as a member of several commissions and boards operating under the auspices of the National Research Council, including the Engineering Research Board, the Board of Chemical Sciences and Technology, the Committee on Separation Science and Technology, and the Amundson Committee on Chemical Engineering Frontiers.

During his long career, Dr. Quinn taught hundreds of undergraduate and graduate students, supervised over 40 doctoral dissertations, and mentored numerous junior colleagues. His former graduate students, four of whom have been elected to the National Academy of Engineering, populate the most distinguished ranks of their profession. His standards of scholarly excellence, innate appreciation for creativity, and his deep humanity left an indelible mark in the work and in the lives of those people fortunate to have worked alongside him.

Credit: The University of Pennsylvania School of Engineering and Applied Science