Skip to main content

In Memoriam: Professor David F. Ollis

Photographic Tribute to Professor David F. Ollis

Welcoming, gentle, generous, kind, humble, a true intellectual, and an outstanding scholar!

These are a few of the words that colleagues and former students have used to describe Professor David Ollis, University Distinguished Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at NC State University, who passed away on Friday, October 6, 2023.

Dave earned his B.S., M.S., and Ph.D. degrees, all in chemical engineering, from Caltech, Northwestern, and Stanford Universities, respectively. Prior to joining NC State’s faculty in 1984, he was a professor of chemical engineering at Princeton University (1969-80) and the University of California at Davis (1980-84). He retired from NC State in 2019.

Professor Ollis’ academic career spanned biochemical engineering, catalysis and photocatalysis, and engineering education.  Dave is perhaps best known for the seminal textbook that he co-authored with James Bailey, Biochemical Engineering Fundamentals (1977, 1986) which initiated the current era in which biology and biochemical engineering are important pillars in chemical engineering.  His other books include Photocatalytic Purification of Air and Water (1993, co-edited with Hussain Al-Ekabi) and Liberal Education for 21st Century Engineering (2004, co-edited with Kathryn Neeley and Heinz Luegenbiehl), and he co-translated Photochemical Technology from French to English with Professor Nick Serpone.

Over the course of his career, Dave authored more than 140 journal articles and delivered more than 200 invited lectures in English and French. According to Google Scholar, his books and research papers have been cited more than 29,000 times, with four cited more than 1000 times each!

In addition to his prominence as a researcher, Dave was also the catalyst for many innovative engineering courses during his tenure at NC State. He developed a Freshman Engineering Laboratory with a significant “hands-on” component, and at the graduate level, he helped develop the research proposition courses that remain an important part of our first-year graduate student experience. He even launched a study-abroad summer program in technical French.  Perhaps the most telling comment concerning Dave’s pedagogical contributions is that from Prof. Rich Felder (education innovator extraordinaire): “Dave was one of the most innovative educators I’ve ever known….”

Throughout his career, Dave also received numerous awards for both teaching and research. Including a Camille Dreyfus Teacher-Scholar Award, the NC State Alumni Distinguished Graduate Professor Award, the UNC Board of Governors Award for Excellence in Teaching, and the Sterling Olmsted Award from the Liberal Education Division of the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE). In 2004, in recognition of his contributions to scholarship and education, he received the Director’s Award for Distinguished Teaching Scholars from the National Science Foundation (NSF), the highest honor bestowed by NSF for excellence in both teaching and research. In 2006, he received the NC State College of Engineering RJ Reynolds Tobacco Award for Excellence in Teaching, Research, and Extension. As a tribute to Dave’s impact, the David F. Ollis Lecture Series in Biochemical Engineering is supported by the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering and the Golden LEAF Biomanufacturing Training and Education Center.

Dave had an incredible impact on our field, and as incredible an impact on his many colleagues, students, and friends. Tributes from his peers include…

“Dave was…unpredictable, gracious, brilliant – a great colleague.” – Prof. Bob Kelly

“…he was a wise soul and a willing listener. Always an educator, but without ever a whiff of ego.” – Prof. Michael Dickey

“Dave will be remembered not only as an accomplished academic but also a wonderful colleague who cared deeply for those around him. He placed as much emphasis on serving students as he did on his research career, an accomplishment that is increasingly rare in an environment where research grant dollars and numbers of papers are valued more than educational initiatives.” – Prof. Ruben Carbonell

Professor David F. Ollis was a man of many achievements. His long career was impactful, not only in academics with his unwavering dedication to innovation, research, and teaching, but also on the personal side with his unparalleled commitment to serving and helping others.  He will be greatly missed.