Remembering Robert S. Schechter

Headshot of Professor Robert Schechter smiling and a link to the UT Memorial Giving pageProfessor Emeritus Robert S. Schechter passed away October 8, 2014 in Austin, Texas at the age of 85.

“Bob had a tremendous impact on the field of applied thermodynamics, our university, and the many students he reached during his 41 years of teaching chemical and petroleum engineering at UT Austin,” said Tom Truskett, department chair.

Raised in Rosenberg, Texas, Schechter was inspired by his high school chemistry teacher, Mr. Althouse, to become a chemical engineer. He graduated from Texas A&M University in 1950 with a B.S.Ch.E. and shortly after began a doctoral program at the University of Minnesota. With the onset of the Korean War, Schechter was called into the U.S. Army’s Chemical Corps. While stationed in Alabama, he met and married Mary Ethel Schechter. Upon his discharge as First Lieutenant, they returned to Minnesota, where he completed his Ph.D.

Schechter joined the UT Austin faculty in 1956, where he taught for his entire academic career. He was initially hired to teach chemical engineering, but midway through his tenure he joined the Department of Petroleum Engineering. Schechter chaired both departments, chemical engineering from 1970-73 and petroleum engineering from 1975-78.

First and foremost, Schechter was a teacher. He loved his students and the profession of teaching. He taught more than a hundred graduate and undergraduate classes, and guided 50 students to M.S. degrees and 40 to Ph.D. degrees. His skill and ability earned him many awards for teaching excellence, including the General Dynamics Award for Teaching Excellence in the College of Engineering in 1987 and the AIME Mineral Industry Education Award in 1998.

Photo of Professor Robert Schechter and former student Mike Fernandez showing the hook 'em longhorn sign and smiling.He was a prolific scholar, focused broadly on the area of applied thermodynamics. Schechter, his colleagues and students have contributed to the understanding of microemulsion stability, geochemical modeling, and surfactant/mineral interactions, all with application to improve oil production methods. He published 202 refereed articles, 27 book chapters and five books, while editing two others. He and his long-time friend, Dr. Bill Wade, developed the spinning drop tensiometer, a device for measuring ultra-low interfacial tensions between fluid phases.

Schechter freely shared his research and ideas with colleagues and continued to assist them in developing proposals for research and grants until shortly before his death. His creativity and scientific contributions earned him election into the National Academy of Engineering, the Chevalier of the Order of the Palmes Academiques from the Prime Minister of France, the first Billy and Claude R. Hocott Distinguished Engineering Research Award (1984), the Joe J. King Professional Engineering Achievement Award (1991), the John Franklin Carll Award from the Society of Petroleum Engineers (1994), and designation as one of the Journal of Petroleum Technology’s Legends of Production and Operation (2009).

In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations are made to the Robert Schechter Endowed Excellence Fund in Chemical Engineering. Donations can be made online or download a pledge form. Memorial gifts can be made payable to UT Austin, please indicate “Robert Schechter Excellence Fund”. Mail to: Dean Clement, UT Austin, 301 E. Dean Keeton C2104 Austin, TX 78712.

Predeceased by his wife, Mary Ethel, and son Larry, Schechter is survived by two sons, Richard of Houston, and his former wife Sue Schechter of Chappell Hill, and Geoffrey and his wife Tina Hoffman of Lexington. MA., four grandchildren, Lillie, Chris, Aimee and Ruby, his brothers and their wives, Joe and Joyce Schechter of Austin and Arthur and Joyce Schechter of Houston, 5 beloved nieces and nephews, 11 grandnieces and nephews and countless cousins of all stripes. 

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