By Wileen Wong Kromhout

The UCLA Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science has announced the establishment of the William D. Van Vorst Chair in Chemical Engineering, made possible by a $2 million gift from UCLA alumni Ralph and Marjorie Crump.

The endowed chair, which the Crumps named in honor of Van Vorst, a longtime professor at UCLA Engineering, will support a highly accomplished scholar in chemical engineering who has a proven track record of excellence in teaching and student mentorship.

“Ralph and Marjorie have been friends and supporters of the school for many years, and we are tremendously grateful for their generosity,” said Vijay K. Dhir, dean of UCLA Engineering. “Professor Van Vorst touched the lives of many of our students in the time that he taught here, and we could not be more pleased with the significance of this chair.”

Van Vorst, now a professor emeritus, began teaching at UCLA Engineering in 1946 and earned his Ph.D. from the school in 1953. He spent much of his academic career exploring the use of hydrogen as an alternative fuel, and his work resulted in the development of two vehicles fueled by hydrogen.

At the height of his research, Van Vorst helped to alleviate public fears about the presumed dangers of hydrogen use, anxieties mostly held over from the 1937 Hindenburg tragedy. Van Vorst published papers and spoke publicly about how the disaster was actually due in part to the material used to coat the “skin” of the airship rather than the gas.

Today, Van Vorst’s interest in the use of hydrogen continues. He remains active in the International Association for Hydrogen Energy (IAHE), as well as the Clean Air Now foundation. He recently received the IAHE’s Jules Verne Award and UCLA Engineering’s Lifetime Contribution Award.

“The establishment of a chair in my name was a wonderful surprise,” Van Vorst said. “Clare [Van Vorst’s wife] and I have been friends with the Crumps for 60 years, and I remember being very fond of him as a student. Ralph has donated to some great causes, and I am honored by this recognition.”

Ralph Crump received his bachelor’s degree in engineering from UCLA in 1950, and Marjorie earned a bachelor’s at UCLA in 1946. The couple was the driving force behind the establishment of UCLA Engineering’s Crump Institute of Medical Engineering in 1980, which has become the Crump Institute for Molecular Imaging. The institute’s innovative projects have contributed greatly to the accomplishments of the school.

A former San Fernando Valley engineer, Ralph Crump is president of the Crump Industrial Group. He has been granted numerous patents and, with Marjorie, founded eight companies. All but one of these companies were publicly traded, and two were listed on the New York Stock Exchange. The Crumps’ companies created close to 8,000 jobs, mostly in the high-tech industry. Several of the businesses were later sold to the likes of Revlon, General Electric and Johnson & Johnson.

“I have maintained a relationship with Professor Van Vorst since graduating in 1950,” Ralph Crump said. “It is our hope that for generations to come, accomplished scholars who regard teaching and student mentorship as highly as Professor Van Vorst does will feel privileged by this prestigious appointment.”

This is the fourth endowed chair funded by the Crumps — three at UCLA and one at Dartmouth College.

The chair is part of UCLA Engineering’s Enhancing Engineering Excellence (E3) initiative, a $100 million fundraising effort aimed at generating new endowed faculty chairs, graduate fellowships and undergraduate scholarships, as well as funds for capital projects and diversity initiatives.

Main Image: Left to Right – Ralph Crump, Marjorie Crump, Clare Van Vorst, and William Van Vorst.