Somasundaran Named to Chair Research Group

Photograph: Ponisseril Somasundaran Photo Credit: Joe Pineiro.

Ponisseril Somasundaran, the La Von Duddleson Krumb Professor of Mineral Engineering, has been re-elected board chairman of the Engineering Foundation for 1995.

The foundation, which funds research and promotes engineering education, is a department of the United Engineering Trustees and was established in 1914. In 1916, it financed the newly created National Research Council, and in the 1960s it was instrumental in founding the National Academy of Engineering.

Somasundaran, who enters his second one-year term as chairman, has led the organization away from direct funding of engineering research and into several initiatives to promote engineering as a profession.

"We have redirected the foundation into these initiatives to help attract the nation's best minds into engineering," the Columbia materials scientist said.

Among the new initiatives established under Somasundaran's leadership are assistance to two pre-college engineering programs, the Junior Engineering and Technical Society for production of its National Engineering Aptitude Search, and the Engineering Pre-College Education Commission of the American Association of Engineering Societies (AAES), for start-up costs.

Funding will also go to the Engineering Workforce Commission of the AAES for mass distribution of Engineers, a quarterly career bulletin. The Engineering Foundation and AAES have also jointly decided to increase their activities in improving the profession's image by increasing the number of $5,000 annual Engineering Journalism Awards from one to three. Prizes in 1995 will be awarded in the categories of Daily Newspapers, Other Printed Media and Television.

Finally, the foundation is starting a fellowship program to allow young engineers to attend professional conferences. It continues to support interdisciplinary conferences among engineering specializations, but has also begun joint conferences with other professions. "We may sponsor, for example, interprofessional conferences of engineers and lawyers and of engineers and medical professionals," Somasundaran said.

The foundation schedules about 25 conferences a year, and has held more than 600 conferences on leading-edge topics since 1962. Among the topics of its upcoming conferences are "Environmental and Energy Engineering in the Food Processing Industry" (San Diego, Mar. 12-16), "Biochemical Engineering," (Davos, Switzerland, May 21-26) and "Future Directions for Lasers in Medicine and Surgery" (Snowbird, Utah, July 11-16).

It has established more than a dozen research councils that have promoted new technologies in a variety of fields, from welding to reinforced concrete. The foundation has an endowment of nearly $10 million and distributes about $250,000 in research grants and educational support annually, exclusive of its conferences.

Somasundaran has served on many international, national and professional committees and has been honored on numerous occasions. He has lectured widely in this country and abroad.

He is an internationally known specialist in fine particle processing, microbial surfaces, enhanced oil recovery, non-renewable mineral and energy resources and molecular interactions at charged surfaces.

He holds baccalaureate degrees from Kerala University in India and the Indian Institute of Science. He earned the M.S. and Ph.D. degrees from UC-Berkeley in 1962 and 1964. He worked for the International Minerals and Chemical Corp. and Reynolds Industries before joining the faculty of Columbia's School of Engineering and Applied Science in 1970.

He was named full professor in 1978 and La Von Duddleson Krumb Professor in 1983. He was elected to membership in the National Academy of Engineering in 1985.

Columbia University Record -- February 24, 1995 -- Vol. 20, No. 18