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Oral history interview with Doron Levin

  • 2001-Dec-01
  • 2021-Jan-19

Doron Levin grew up in Johannesburg, South Africa, one of four children. His father was an auto mechanic and his mother a bookkeeper. Levin followed the science track in high school, and he was inspired to study chemistry when he attended an after-school program focused on geology, paleontology, and petrochemistry. He entered the chemical engineering department at the University of Witwatersrand with a bursary from Sasol. After completing his bachelor of science degree in chemical engineering, Levin obtained an honors degree in operations research from the University of South Africa while simultaneously working at Sasol. Since there was limited scope for advanced degrees in South Africa, Levin entered the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's (MIT) PhD program. During a summer internship at Exxon he worked with Stuart Soled, who has remained a friend as well as colleague and mentor. Levin obtained a master's degree in chemical engineering practice from having attended the David H. Koch School of Chemical Engineering Practice and a PhD in chemical engineering from MIT. Levin accepted a job with Mobil Oil Company working on catalysis in the corporate research department. After Mobil merged with Exxon Corporation, Levin continued to do basic and applied catalysis research and was assigned to a team working on methanol to olefins (MTO). He was transferred to Process Research to support the manufacture of catalysts and was tasked with developing the next generation of catalysts. He discovered TransPlusNG. From there he moved to Hydroprocessing, where he worked with Soled to develop next generation bulk metal hydrotreating catalysts similar to Nebula, which is based on his summer intern work with nickel molybdates. Nebula's catalytic effect is enormous, and finds wide-spread application in the production of cleaner fuels and lubricants. Levin is now an integrated project team leader (IPTL), but he will soon return to Catalyst Technology, this time as a Section Head, responsible for developing the professionals in his section as well as his own leadership qualities. He explains that this is typical of ExxonMobil's career development process, but he anticipates a great deal of added stress. Levin discusses patenting and publishing in the petroleum industry; competition, especially from China; and current research in the catalysis field. Levin is married and has three young children. He and his family live in Highland Park, New Jersey, close to New York City and to his work in Clinton, New Jersey. He has started a hobby of woodworking, making an oven for his twin daughters. He talks about his view of Americans and of cyclical anti-science attitudes. He says he would go into science again and would recommend it for his children, as he has found his career intellectually engaging, fun, and practical. He is definitely glad to have emigrated. Levin still works with Soled, whom he regards as his first mentor; José Santiesteban is another mentor and his current boss. Levin is proud of receiving the Moore Medal; it means outside recognition. His goals include raising his children well and one day being a global expert in catalysis. He believes that there is still room for much more development in the catalysis field.

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