Campus mourns loss of ChemE professor Gary Powers

Gary Powers, a professor of chemical engineering and a member of the Carnegie Mellon faculty since 1974, died of a heart attack on July 23 at his home in Sewickley, Pa. He was 61.

Powers’s expertise in process systems engineering and safety analysis made him a leader in the industry throughout his tenure at Carnegie Mellon. With undergraduate and graduate students in his lab, he created experiments that emphasized aspects of process safety and environmental risk analysis, which prompted many of the students to become entrepreneurs, according to a university press release issued July 26. Powers was also a major player in Carnegie Mellon’s Center for Advanced Process Decision-Making.

At the beginning of each semester, Powers would sit with Polaroid photographs of the students in his classes, trying to memorize each name and face, his daughter Becky Musial recalled in an article published by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on July 27. Musial added that Powers cherished his relationships with faculty and students, and that he encouraged students to work together and form relationships with each other inside and outside of the classroom.

Powers received a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering from the University of Michigan in 1967. He attended the University of Wisconsin for his Ph.D. in chemical engineering. Powers spent two years at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology as an associate professor before joining the Carnegie Mellon faculty.

Powers was a multiple recipient of the Kun Li Award for excellence, awarded annually to an outstanding chemical engineering professor by that year’s graduating senior class. In 2005, he received the Walton-Miller Award from the American Institute of Chemical Engineers for his work in process risk assessment. As a Ph.D. student at the University of Wisconsin, in a joint effort with colleagues, he developed AIDS, a program for the automatic synthesis of process flow sheets using artificial intelligence techniques. He also co-authored Process Synthesis, the first textbook in this subject.

Outside of the classroom, Powers was vice president of Design Sciences, Inc., an engineering firm that provides quantitative risk assessment services to the process industries.

Powers is survived by his wife Susan; his children Ben, Nate, Alex, Katie, Libby, and Becky; five grandchildren; and a brother and sister.

A memorial service in Powers’s honor was held on July 28 at Unitarian Universalist Church of the North Hills in Franklin Park.

A campus memorial, organized by the department of chemical engineering, will be held in the fall.

Donations may be sent to the Gary J. Powers Scholarship Fund, c/o Toni McIltrot, Department of Chemical Engineering, Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, Pa., 15222-5488.