Oral history interview with Enrique Iglesia

  • 2014-Jan-27 – 2014-Jan-28

Enrique Iglesia was born in Havana, Cuba, one of two children. The family lived in Havana until Enrique was about fourteen years old; he was then approaching military age, at which time he would not be allowed to leave the country, so they moved to Mexico, where they lived for six months, awaiting papers to enter the United States. In Miami, Florida, Enrique's intellectual abilities were recognized, and he was placed in advanced courses in math and science, and he also took college-level math classes at Florida International University. Iglesia entered Princeton University because of his math teacher's recommendation, intending to major in chemical engineering, and he found the education there excellent. John Weikart of Exxon Corporation began to recruit him. Iglesia had summer internships at Exxon and became interested in catalysis. He entered Stanford for a PhD and began research right away in Michel Boudart's group, working on the applicability of model systems to real-world catalysis. Iglesia married at the end of his first year in graduate school and by the end of his PhD, they were expecting their first child, so Iglesia needed to have a job. He accepted Exxon, expecting to return to academia eventually, and they moved to New Jersey. Iglesia advanced to the position of section head, supervising about fifty scientists and support staff, and found the science to be first rate. He also taught a seminar at Stanford during several summers. Ready to return to academia he accepted University of California, Berkeley's offer and also became a consultant to Catalytic Associates. He and Fabio Ribeiro worked together at the start and his research on membrane thin films continuing a project of Heinz Heinemann, the "father of organized catalysis." BP organized a collaboration of scientists from Caltech and Berkeley, a small group called Methane Conversion Cooperative, that lasted ten years and worked on gas conversion. Iglesia promoted thinking over excessive use of technology; he wanted to see real-world materials under real conditions, not just in models. He has started a new, smaller, group, the X Conversion Cooperative, which has reached its fifth year and continues beyond. His group has been working on Fischer-Tropsch synthesis again, as well as other reactions of C1 molecules, such as carbonylation and tripane synthesis. In addition, Chevron Corporation has been funding research into zeolites, which the Cooperative has learned to form around a precursor, and van der Waals interactions, and auto manufacturers have supported research into exhaust problems. He has also been co-editor in chief of the Journal of Catalysis;. During his interview, Iglesia mentions many other scientists who have been important in his career and describes some of their work. He talks about liking teaching, though he finds that working with the different personalities of students can be challenging. Iglesia says that academia provides freedom to do what interests him. He analogizes a scientist's students and their students to a family "bloodline." Iglesia says that predicting too far in advance can narrow one's vision. Iglesia is proud of his family, of having close friends, and that he is still learning things.

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