Duncan Mellichamp, a professor emeritus and a founding faculty member of UC Santa Barbara’s Chemical Engineering Department, has been inducted into the Control Process Automation Hall of Fame. Inductees were nominated and selected by existing Hall of Fame members, based on their excellence, diligence, and influence to the process control industry.
“I appreciate the honor very much, especially knowing how much effort went into building UCSB’s Chemical Engineering Department and the College of Engineering in the early years, as well as the unusual research and pedagogical effort expended,” said Mellichamp. “Looking back, I never thought I would take on as many things as I have.”
Mellichamp was one of six founding faculty members of the Chemical Engineering Department, where he started up the process control program. Today, the department is considered among the best in the world, tabbed by U.S. News and World Report as fifth best graduate program among public universities and eighth overall in the 2021 rankings.
Mellichamp, who earned his bachelor’s degree from Georgia Tech and his PhD from Purdue University, both in chemical engineering, authored more than one hundred research publications on process modeling, large-scale systems analysis, and computer control. During his career, he mentored more than fifty graduate students to degrees, including the first PhD granted in chemical engineering at UCSB and the first granted to a female student in the entire College of Engineering.
His early computer work led to an edited book in 1983, Real-Time Computing with Applications to Data Acquisition and Control. He co-wrote the undergraduate textbook, Process Dynamics and Control, now in its fourth edition. The book received the 1990 American Society of Engineering Education Meriam-Wiley Award as the top engineering textbook, and it has been used at more than sixty universities. His recent research has focused on the potential profitability and risk in the design of large-scale chemical plants.
Mellichamp, who came to UCSB in 1966 from DuPont’s Textile Fibers Division in North Carolina, spent his entire academic career at the university and has remained active in university affairs and philanthropy since becoming emeritus in 2003. In addition to serving as chair of the UCSB Academic Senate from 1990-1992, he was vice chair and chair of the systemwide Academic Senate and the faculty representative to the UC Board of Regents from 1995 -1997. He also spent seven years as special assistant to the chancellor for long-range planning.
Mellichamp and his wife, Suzanne, an elementary school teacher for thirty years, have endowed sixteen faculty chairs at UCSB, beginning in 2001 with a single chair in process control. Since then, they have created three coordinated clusters of four chairs apiece in carefully selected areas deemed of increasing importance: systems biology (2003), globalization (2008), and sustainable chemistry (2014). Last year, they spearheaded the Mellichamp Endowed Chair in Systems Engineering, and two Founders Chairs for the Chemical Engineering Department, one honoring Robert Rinker, the department’s first faculty member, and the other John Myers, the first department chair.
“I always felt strongly that it is our responsibility to ensure that the people we hire are better than we are. Eventually, our successors will make us all look good,” said Mellichamp. “So, just as integral control action works slowly but effectively, pushing process outputs to the desired control objectives, this combination of bright, highly motivated young faculty in key new fields will help UCSB achieve its best long-term results.”
The Process Automation Hall of Fame features about sixty inductees, including UCSB professor James Rawlings, a 2016 Hall of Fame inductee and the Chemical Engineering Department's Mellichamp Process Control Chair, and professor emeritus Dale Seborg (2008 inductee), who co-wrote the award-winning textbook with Mellichamp.