Lewis, Warren Kendall, 1882-

Alternative names
Dates:
Birth 1882
Death 1975

Biographical notes:

Warren K. Lewis, 1882-1975, SB, 1905, MIT; PhD in chemistry, 1908, University of Breslau, Germany, became assistant professor of chemistry at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 1910 and professor of chemical engineering in 1914. From 1920 to1929 he served as the first head of the newly established Department of Chemical Engineering. He then returned full time to teaching and research.

Warren K. Lewis played a significant role in establishing chemical engineering as an independent discipline. He collaborated with William H. Walker and W. H. McAdams in writing the textbook Principles of Chemical Engineering . After its publication in 1923 it became the standard for students of the field.

Lewis's research interests were many, but of particular significance is the development of new methods for refining petroleum. In the 1920s, as a consultant to Standard Oil of New Jersey, Lewis’s work on fluidized powders and the control of their movement in a chamber led to the development of a process for producing high-octane fuels, a great advantage to Allied air power in World War II. During World War I, Lewis worked on gas defense with the Chemical Warfare Service and the Bureau of Mines. In World War II Lewis was a member of the National Defense Research Committee and an advisor to the Office of Production Research and Development. He also served as a member of the Senior Advisory Committee for the Manhattan Project. (1)

From 1947 to 1949 at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Warren K. Lewis chaired a committee appointed by the MIT faculty, the Committee on Educational Survey, to examine the principles of education that had guided academic policy at MIT and determine if they were applicable to the new post-war world. This influential committee set in place organizational and curriculum changes that served as the standard for future Institute committees and review efforts. Lewis was so closely associated with the work of the committee that the committee's final report is known at MIT as the "Lewis Report.” Lewis became professor emeritus in 1948 but continued teaching as a department lecturer.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology recognized his achievements by establishing the Warren K. Lewis Professorship of Chemical Engineering in 1969, and the Department of Chemical Engineering honored him by establishing in 1978 the annual Warren K. Lewis Lectureship which features speakers from industry and universities.

Warren K. Lewis was born in Laurel, Delaware, where he attended local schools and then a year of high school in Newton, Massachusetts, before entering MIT in 1901. He married Rosalind Kenway in 1909. They had four children, Rosalind (Mrs. George McFarland), Mary (Mrs. Cherry Emerson), Warren K. Lewis, Jr., and H. Clay Lewis. Rosalind H. Williams, granddaughter of Warren K. and Rosalind D. Lewis, is the Bern Dibner Professor of the History of Science and Technology in the Program in Science, Technology, and Society at MIT.

(1) Massachusetts Institute of Technology, News Office Release, March 11, 1975

From the guide to the Warren K. Lewis papers, 1898-1990, (Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Institute Archives and Special Collections)

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