In Memoriam: Elmer Gaden


March 15, 2012 — Elmer L. Gaden Jr., a retired chemical engineering professor, died March 10 in Charlottesville. He was 88.

Known as "the father of biochemical engineering," Gaden held the Wills Johnson Professor of Chemical Engineering at the University until his retirement in 1994.

A service celebrating his life will be held March 24 at 2 p.m. at Thomas Jefferson Memorial Church, Unitarian Universalist on Rugby Road.

Foremost among his many awards was the 2009 Fritz and Delores Russ Prize, recognized as one of engineering's highest honors. The prize was awarded by the National Academy of Engineering and Ohio University for Gaden's pioneering research, which enabled the large-scale manufacture of antibiotics such as penicillin.

"His work changed medical practices in nearly every country in the world," said James H. Aylor, dean of U.Va.'s School of Engineering and Applied Science. "He was also a dedicated educator and was witty and charming to the end of his days."

Calling Gaden "a gentleman and a scholar," Aylor said, "He will be missed."

After earning his bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees in chemical engineering from Columbia University, Gaden served on Columbia's faculty from 1949 until 1974, chairing the chemical engineering department for 12 years during that time. He also founded the journal Biotechnology and Bioengineering, which he edited until 1983. After leaving Columbia, he became dean of the College of Engineering, Mathematics and Business Administration at University of Vermont, but missed the classroom and, in 1979, resigned to come to U.Va.

After his retirement in 1994, U.Va. hosted a daylong symposium and banquet in his honor.

Gaden's other notable honors included the MacWade Award from the students of U.Va.'s School of Engineering and Applied Science and Columbia's Great Teacher Award. In 2007, Columbia established the Gaden Lecture, which annually brings a distinguished lecturer to the university.

Also a passionate historian, Gaden taught military history at Columbia and led informal day tours of Virginia's Civil War battlefields for students, colleagues and friends.

In retirement, Gaden volunteered to teach adults how to read.

He is survived by his wife of 48 years, Jennifer; a daughter, Barbara; sons David and Paul; their spouses; and two grandchildren. He is also survived by generations of chemical and biochemical engineers, to whom he was professor and mentor.

Daily Progress obituary