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Bruce Finlayson wins ASEE'S 2008 CACHE Award for Excellence in Computing in Chemical Engineering Education

Bruce Finlayson, UW professor emeritus of chemical engineering, won the 2008 CACHE Award for Excellence in Computing in Chemical Engineering Education from the American Society of Engineering Education (ASEE).

The award, sponsored by the CACHE Corporation and given by ASEE’s Chemical Engineering Division, honors significant contributions in the development of computer aids for chemical engineering education. ASEE will present the award to Finlayson in June at their annual conference in Pittsburgh.

Helping to solve problems—from reducing pollution caused by catalytic converters to designing medical sensors tiny enough to slip into a slot on a cell phone—has been Finlayson’s focus during his 40 years at UW. His forte is developing and applying numerical methods to solve chemical engineering challenges.

Throughout his career, Finlayson has applied the latest research methods to issues as diverse as recycling computers, swallowing, ferrofluids and fuel cells. He also has been a pioneer in creating software and designing courses to help students focus on solving real world problems.

“Modern computer tools permit inductive learning where the student first is confronted with a problem and then learns how to recognize it and solve it, thereby learning the subject,” Finlayson said.

Finlayson, author of “Introduction to Chemical Engineering Computing,” was one of the first professors in the United States to introduce computer-aided design (CAD) tools to the teaching process. Early on, he witnessed how students’ creativity flourishes when computer programs free them from the underlying calculations.

“My philosophy is that students can be good chemical engineers without understanding the details of the numerical analysis,” Finlayson said. “That said, understanding the details of the numerical analysis has been the focus of my career and it does help when students get stuck.”

Despite retiring in fall 2006, Finlayson continues to teach his popular elective course for undergraduates on chemical engineering computer methods. Over the past seven years, he has worked with 75 undergraduate research students.

Sam Jenekhe, Boeing-Martin Professor of Engineering at UW, nominated Finlayson for the award. "Bruce not only pioneered computer methodologies for solving engineering problems but, equally important, he has through his courses here at UW, lectures around the world, and his books, taught generations of chemical engineers how to effectively use those computer tools,” Jenekhe said.

Finlayson’s many honors include the prestigious Walker Award from the American Institute of Chemical Engineers, induction into the National Academy of Engineering, and serving as president of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers in 2000. In 2005, he received the Dow Lectureship Award from the Chemical Engineering Division of ASEE.

In 1996 he received the Undergraduate Computational Engineering and Science Award from the Department of Energy, and in 1995 he received the Martin Award for the Best Chemical Engineering paper at the ASEE Conference in 1994.