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Photo of Frank DerbyshireFrank Derbyshire
1945-1999

It came as a great shock to all of us to learn that Frank Derbyshire passed away August 17 while on a trip to England. Director of the Center for Applied Energy Research since 1989 and a professor in the chemical and materials engineering department in the College of Engineering, Frank enjoyed a career that spanned nearly 30 years.

"He embodied all the qualities of a great researcher. He took CAER to new heights and was one of the leading forces in our material research program," says Fitzgerald Bramwell, RGS vice president. "He was instrumental in securing a $3.5 million grant from NSF for the study of carbon nanotubes. And under his leadership, UK hosted several international conferences on new energy materials. He was a superb scientist, an absolute gentleman, and a really nice guy."

Frank joined UK after serving as research director at Sutcliffe Speakman Carbons Ltd. in England and as an associate professor in fuel science at Pennsylvania State University. He published 150 papers about energy research and held 13 patents related to coal, hydrocarbons, graphites and other energy materials.

After graduating with honors in chemical engineering from Manchester University in England, Frank earned a master's degree from McMaster University in Ontario and a Ph.D. from Imperial College in London. In 1987, he received the Richard A. Glenn Award from the Bituminous Coal Research Association, and in 1997 he received the Henry H. Storch Award in Fuel Chemistry from the American Chemical Society.

"His professional accomplishments are well documented in a research career that spanned the range from government research, to private industry, academia, and ultimately to CAER, which combines some of each," says Frank Burke, president of the CAER advisory board and a longtime friend. "To my mind, what most strongly characterized Frank as a scientist, administrator, and a friend was his ability to engage others in productive and cooperative endeavors through his intelligence, persistence and his personal charm and wit. There is a saying that delight is measured by the degree to which actuality exceeds expectation. In all respects, Frank Derbyshire was a delightful fellow."

"I think the key to Frank's success in life, in what he accomplished and in his relationships with his large worldwide network of friends and acquaintances, was that he never took himself too seriously—and he never took anybody else too seriously either," says David Gray, director of energy systems analysis for Mitretek, a non-profit consulting company in McLean, Virginia. "This attitude allowed him to deal fairly and honestly with people from all stations in life—students, academicians, industrialists, politicians, and bureaucrats. He knew exactly who he was and he knew exactly who you were beneath your cloak of authority or title or office."

"Frank was the embodiment of a humane and cosmopolitan scientist," says Lubisa Radovic, professor of energy and geo-environmental engineering at Penn State and editor-in-chief in North America of the CARBON journal. "His legacy will be in the science that has earned him the Storch Award in Fuel Chemistry as well as in his contributions to the science and technology of novel carbon materials. But we shall cherish him just as much for his joy of living, the erudition, the enthusiasm, the urge to interact—that elegant, sophisticated and yet unpretentious and warm interaction."

Radovic also singles out what she calls Frank's "opportune humor" as a unique and memorable trait. Burke agrees, recalling one incident where Frank was the featured speaker at a Pittsburgh Coal Technology Group luncheon meeting. The restaurant had offered to supply a screen for projection of his slides. It turned out that the screen was tiny—only about three feet wide and two feet tall—and the top could be raised only a few feet off the floor. "After being introduced for his presentation," Burke says, "Frank approached the screen, dropped to his knees, and began his presentation with complete aplomb."

Burke remembers Frank as unflappable in the face of adversity or surprise. "At a session at an American Chemical Society meeting in Anaheim, not far from Disneyland, Frank was on the agenda. Inspired by the locale, I arranged for members of the audience to don those famous mouse ears when Frank took the podium. This prompted him to confess that many people thought his experimental methods were Mickey Mouse and his data were Goofy, but he was going ahead with the presentation nonetheless."

"We worked for 10 years together and considered it a great partnership—Frank with the science, me with the administration—so much so that it carried over outside of the CAER. He was also my business partner in a thriving start-up business at ASTeCC and soon to be Coldstream, and my tennis partner," says Don Challman, an associate director at CAER. Challman characterizes Frank as a "globe-trotter extraordinaire" who did anything he could for students. "He loved creating opportunities for young people," Challman says. "He was a veritable Pied Piper: wherever he travelled, he would lead students back to Kentucky."

"It is clear to me that Frank was the heart and soul of the Center for Applied Energy Research," says Radovic. "He has put CAER on the U.S. map. He has prepared his center well for the 21st century, as if he had known that it will have to get there without him."

Frank, you will be missed.

by Alicia Gregory and Jeff Worley