Monday, November 22, 2010

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"Landau and his wife, Claire, had one daughter."

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Chemistry in History

Ralph Landau (1916–2004) founded one of the world’s most successful engineering and design firms, Scientific Design Company, Inc., and its successor corporations, which developed and commercialized nearly a dozen processes for producing petrochemicals.

Ralph Landau

Ralph Landau. Photograph by Selwyn Fund. Gift of Ralph Landau. Chemical Heritage Foundation Collections.

After the war he and a construction engineer he had met at Oak Ridge, Harry Rehnberg, started Scientific Design with the objective of improving petrochemical production processes. Much of their business in the early days was abroad, and one of their first successes was an improved method of producing terephthalic acid—the main raw ingredient in polyester fiber—by bromine-assisted oxidation of paraxylene. Worldwide rights for this process were purchased by Standard Oil of Indiana (now BP Amoco). Another triumph was an improved process for producing propylene oxide, a substance used in polyurethane foams and in rigid polymers; in this case the partner in the new corporation, called Oxirane, was Arco Chemical Company (also now BP Amoco).

Later, as a faculty member of the economics department at Stanford University and a fellow at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, Landau focused on understanding the political and economic environment necessary to encourage technological innovation—the lifeblood of a successful economy.

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