September 10, 2010

Pioneering engineer, professor Anne Hiltner dies

Anne Hiltner.

Anne Hiltner, Case Western Reserve’s first female professor of engineering and an internationally recognized scientist and engineer, died Monday after a courageous battle with illness. She was 69.

“Our campus has lost a remarkable academic leader,” President Barbara R. Snyder said. “As a woman in the sciences and engineering, Professor Hiltner’s entire career served as an inspiration to others. As a researcher of extraordinary ingenuity and accomplishment, she transformed her field. Her impact on the university, and on students and colleagues worldwide, cannot be overstated. We will miss her.”

Professor Hiltner came to the university in 1967, after earning a doctorate in physical chemistry from Oregon State University. She served as a research associate for one year with chemistry professor Irvin M. Krieger, and then joined the laboratory of professor Eric Baer, who was chairman of the Department of Macromolecular Science at the time. The connection with professor Baer proved fortuitous, as the pair forged a powerful scientific collaboration that persisted to the present. They also discovered personal compatibility, marrying in 1999.

“The dream of every faculty member is to try harder, harder,” Baer said. “She always climbed mountains.”

From the very beginning, Baer recalled, his colleague was committed to excellence. Whether working in the laboratory, writing papers or advising graduate students, Hiltner remained laser-focused. “She was a projects person,” Baer said.

In 1974, Hiltner became the university’s first female member of the engineering faculty when she became an assistant professor of macromolecular engineering. Seven years later she founded the Center for Applied Polymer Research (CAPRI), an organization that encouraged collaboration across disciplines and ultimately laid the groundwork for the program that she considered her greatest achievement, the awarding of a 10-year, $40 million National Science Foundation Science and Technology Center (STC), the Center for Layered Polymeric Systems (CLiPS).

The NSF received more than 160 applications for STC funding, and gave awards to six. CLiPS is the university’s first and only STC, and involves several other university partnerships nationwide as well as collaboration with the Cleveland Metropolitan School District.

“The STC made her feel she had reached to the top of Everest,” Baer said. “She really reached the pinnacle of her career.”

Over her career, Professor Hiltner published nearly 400 articles in peer-reviewed journals, and received multiple honors from professional scientific organizations. She was a Fellow of the American Chemical Society’s Division of Polymeric Materials, the American Institute for Medical Biological Engineering, and the High Polymer Physics Division of the American Physical Society.  

In 2001, Professor Hiltner was the recipient of the American Chemical Society’s Cooperative Research Award in Polymer Science and Engineering. In 2004, Case Western Reserve named her the Herbert Henry Dow Professor of Science and Engineering. That same year, the Society of Plastics Engineers’ Thermoplastic Materials and Foam Division presented Professor Hiltner its annual outstanding achievement award. In 2008, she received the American Chemical Society’s Award in Applied Polymer Science. In announcing the honor, the society cited Professor Hiltner’s “pioneering contributions in understanding the connections between hierarchical structure and properties of polymers, their blends and composites.”

Even with all of the recognition, Baer said, “her greatest joy was her involvement with the graduate students.  She loved the creative, productive side of her work.”

Hiltner did not want formal remembrances or donations made in her name, Baer said. The greatest tribute others can make to Hiltner, he explained, is to continue her creative mission through their academic work.

Posted by: David Wilson, September 10, 2010 10:46 AM | News Topics:

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