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Engineering professor's legacy: Endowed lecture series

by Lauren Katims

Professor Martin Sussman always had a passion for science. He put a dramatic twist on his thermo–
dynamics class, teaching it like a Shakespeare production, altering the tone of his voice to keep his students interested. "Does anyone even care?" he would exclaim if he thought the classroom wasn't paying attention.

Sussman, who taught at Tufts for 37 years, 10 of them as chair of what is now the Chemical and Biological Engineering Department, died in 2005. Many of his former students say he had a lasting impact on their lives and his thermodynamics class was their favorite: an impressive feat for the subject, according to the colleague who succeeded him in teaching the course. "He could get students to relate to everyday gadgets and things, so they could understand," said Jerry Meldon, associate professor of chemical engineering.

The holder of more than 20 patents, Sussman wanted his students to appreciate how science and engineering impacted society and everyday life. "He had a way of looking at our field, and thinking of it as a very broad topic, even though the average person wouldn't know what chemical engineers do," Meldon said.

Sussman was grateful for the opportunity Tufts gave him to help close the gap between engineering in academia and engineering in the real world. He traveled around the globe, teaching, doing research, and fueling his fascination with technology and culture.

To say thank you, Sussman bequeathed $100,000 to the ChBE Department to establish the Jeanne and Martin Sussman Endowed Fellowship and Lectureship series.

The inaugural lecture in the biennial series, given this past December, featured Professor Klaus Jensen, head of the Chemical Engineering Department at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, speaking on "Microsystems for Accelerating Chemical and Biological Studies."

"The lectureship allows our department to learn from the world's best researchers and educators in chemical and biological engineering," said Nak Ho Sung, chairman of the department. "Like Sussman, Jenson epitomizes chemical engineering innovation and has set a precedent for the series by highlighting new research trends, including sustainability, one of the grand challenges for engineering across disciplines."

In memory of Sussman, students from around the world posted fond memories of their times in his classes, such as the time his final exam asked for a calculation of how to get the hottest possible cup of coffee when adding cream and stirring.

Sussman hoped a lecture series would attract people who would not normally interact and encourage them to make connections, said his daughter, Ann, F85, trustee for her father's estate. "Tufts in a very real way for him—maybe more so than for most faculty members—was home," she said. "He felt really lucky and thankful to have had such a great experience and wanted to give this back to others."