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Chemical Engineering Professor caps celebrated 35-year MU career

Tom Marrero smiles during his retirement party.

Tom Marrero, professor of chemical engineering, recently retired after 35 years as a member of the College of Engineering faculty. He advised 26 graduate and 23 honors students during his MU tenure. Photo by Shelby Kardell.

Since Aug. 1, 1979, Thomas R. (Tom) Marrero has been a constant in the Chemical Engineering Department of the College of Engineering at the University of Missouri. And that consistent presence and his wealth of institutional knowledge and expertise will be missed both by the department and the college going forward from his retirement in December.

Marrero had 15 years of industrial experience at Martin-Marietta, W.R. Grace, Babcock & Wilcox and General Electric, as well as a doctorate from the University of Maryland-College Park, a master’s degree from Villanova University and a bachelor’s degree from the Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn before taking a job first as a post-doctoral research associate at MU in 1970, then as a visiting professor at Texas A&M in 1978.

Dean Robert Schwartz and Chemical Engineering chair Baolin Deng pose with Tom Marrero.

Interim Dean of the College of Engineering Robert Schwartz, left, and Chemical Engineering Professor and Department Chair Baolin Deng, right, both spoke about the storied career of Tom Marrero during his recent retirement party at Lafferre Hall. Photo by Shelby Kardell.

The following year, both MU and the University of Missouri-Rolla (now Missouri University of Science and Technology) were in the market for Marrero’s expertise, and he opted to join the MU faculty, moving with his wife and children to Columbia.

Many of Marrero’s classes have dealt with environmental engineering, and he was the first to teach a chemical engineering course in the Honors College — a course titled Green Engineering. His other courses included Chemodynamics, Air Pollution Control, Hazardous Waste Management and Sustainable Energy. Such courses gave Marrero the opportunity to share both his industrial expertise and educational background.

“I always enjoyed chemical engineering since I was an undergraduate, when I worked in the pharmaceutical research lab, and I learned how to make pharmaceutical products, and I learned a lot of processes, too,” he said.

“I taught mostly the environmental classes because most of the younger professors weren’t into that for their research. So I selected a topic that was unique.”

Marrero has been involved in a multitude of research projects during his tenure at MU. One of the more notable efforts was his work alongside the late Director of the Capsule Pipeline Research Center Henry Liu, who also served as a professor in MU’s Civil Engineering Department. The project involved compacting coal and other solids into cylinders and using water to suspend and transport the logs through a pipeline, creating a more efficient means of transport, one that used one-third to one-fourth of the water needed to transport a similar amount in terms of coal through a slurry pipeline.

The capsule pipeline project received an eight-year grant from the National Science Foundation, leading to the creation of the Capsule Pipeline Research Center. Several companies, the State of Missouri and MU provided additional funding for the center, which was one of the first four NSF State/Industry University Cooperative Research Centers in the nation. And it was the first pipeline research center located at a university in the state.

“I contributed with developing a way to compact the coal so that it wouldn’t disintegrate in pressurized water while the coal log was flowing through a pipeline,” Marrero said.

Among Marrero’s other notable projects was developing a feasibility evaluation of renewable energy products based on several factors alongside Tom Johnson, professor of agricultural and applied economics and professor in MU’s Harry S. Truman School of Public Affairs. The project was funded through a two-year “Energize Missouri” grant from the Missouri Department of Natural Resources and was one of 17 such subgrants awarded statewide with funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act through the U.S. Department of Energy’s State Energy Program.

“They’re using less coal and more renewable materials like oak chips,” Marrero said, pointing to the MU power plant outside his office window.

Service has been a key part of Marrero’s career. He has had a hand in either establishing or serving on student chapters of various professional organizations, including Omega Chi Epsilon and five years as student chapter advisor of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE). Marrero also served as an advisor to the student chapter of the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers.

Additionally, Marrero has advised 26 graduate and 23 honors students, including alumnus Michael Pishko, the recently-named Dean of Engineering and Applied Science at the University of Wyoming.

Marrero was a 50-year member of AIChE, earning the distinguished title of Fellow in 2004. Fellows are elite members of the AIChE who have practiced chemical engineering professionally for more than 25 years and have made significant contributions to the profession. He also led numerous groups within the world’s top organization for chemical engineering professionals, including a term as president of the InterAmerican Conference of Chemical Engineers.

“Tom’s 35 years of dedicated service and commitment to the College of Engineering are deeply appreciated,” said Robert Schwartz, interim dean of the College of Engineering. “I wish Tom the absolute best for his future as he enjoys his retirement.”

A father of three and grandfather of seven, Marrero said he isn’t set on a particular path once retirement begins, but he plans to consider working with several nascent commercial businesses.

“I’m a type-A person, and I’ve never been unemployed since I was 14, when I worked in papers,” he said. “I’m thinking about different opportunities.”