Clarkson celebrates life of late professor Wilcox

William R. Wilcox

POTSDAM — Clarkson University is celebrating the life of Distinguished Professor Emeritus and Distinguished Professor of Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering William R. Wilcox.

Forty-five years ago, Bill Wilcox joined Clarkson as chair of its outstanding chemical engineering department. Ten years later, he led the effort to organize a materials research center. In 1987, this center became a New York State Center for Advanced Technology, known as the Center for Advanced Materials Processing (CAMP) and headed by Wilcox. Funding was received from the State both for annual operating expenses for the CAMP organization and for the construction of the CAMP building. Wilcox helped develop the building design, including specification of offices, labs and classrooms.

In 1987, Wilcox was also appointed dean of engineering, a post he held for ten years. During that time, he oversaw the development of a bachelor of science degree in aeronautical engineering and its approval by Clarkson, the New York State Department of Education, and relevant accreditation organizations. Doctoral programs were also created for civil engineering, electrical engineering, and mechanical engineering. Near the end of his term as dean, he led the effort to obtain funding from the National Science Foundation to organize and complete the move of the engineering school to the CAMP building. In 2017 he was named a distinguished professor emeritus and honored for 42 years of exemplary service to the University.

Two years prior to coming to Clarkson, Wilcox began a 30-year association with NASA’s microgravity materials research program. This included both ground-based research and experiments in Skylab, the Space Shuttle, and sounding rockets, as well as two sets of experiments performed by Wilcox himself on the notorious “vomit comet” low-gravity aircraft.

A major activity in 1986 was organizing and then heading the Consortium for Commercial Crystal Growth in Space, with participation by several universities, companies, and national laboratories. “The most enjoyable aspect of working with NASA was getting know interesting people from around the world, including scientists, managers, engineers and astronauts,” said Wilcox.

“Serving as director of two centers and dean of engineering kept me extremely busy doing interesting and important things. But the most satisfying part was helping faculty members develop their research programs. I was able to assist in obtaining expensive equipment and obtain funding from government agencies and companies.”

He received numerous national and international awards for his contributions to chemical and materials engineering. Wilcox published more than 260 research articles, held editorial positions on several journals and organized many international conferences, workshops. He was elected Academician of the International Academy of Astronautics, a fellow of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers, and a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Wilcox also brought in big investments to Clarkson. He was inducted into Clarkson’s Million Dollar Club in 1998 and over the years he received more than $19 million (not accounting for inflation) in external funding for his research at Clarkson.

He also has 31 former PhD students that he advised, as well as 30 MS students. Generations of undergraduate and graduate students benefitted from his courses on subjects ranging from statistics to materials science.

Wilcox was born in Manhattan, Kansas on January 14, 1935. His childhood was spent in St. Louis, Washington DC, Ness City (Kansas), and Torrance (California). He received a B.E. degree from the University of Southern California in 1956 and a PhD from the University of California at Berkeley in 1960, both in Chemical Engineering. After working for TRW Semiconductors and the Aerospace Corporation for 8 years, Wilcox returned to USC as a professor of chemical engineering and materials science.

Bill passed away peacefully on Dec. 17, in Massachusetts.

The dates of a memorial service and celebration of his extraordinary life to be determined after COVID-19 restrictions are lifted.

Donations in his memory and honor may be given to the Clarkson Fund, https://connect.clarkson.edu/register/giving.

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