University of Minnesota
University of Minnesota: Department of Mechanical Engineering


In memoriam: Emil Pfender (1925-2016)

Professor Emeritus

The M.E. community mourns the passing, on January 28, 2016, of Emeritus Professor Emil Pfender after a brief illness. Professor Pfender was a member of the National Academy of Engineering, among many other honors.

Emil Pfender was born May 25, 1925, in Dietershausen, a small farming village in southern Germany.  He earned his Diploma in Physics in 1953, and then his Dr. Ing. in Electrical Engineering in 1959, both from the Technical University of Stuttgart, where he then became Chief Assistant and Lecturer at the Institute for Gaseous Electronics. In 1961 he spent a year as Visiting Scientist at the Plasma Physics Branch of the Air Force Research Laboratories, at Wright Patterson Air Force Base, near Dayton, Ohio.
In 1964 Professor Pfender was recruited by Professor Ernst Eckert to direct the High Temperature Laboratory (now the High Temperature and Plasma Laboratory), in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Minnesota. He joined the Department as an Associate Professor, and became Professor in 1967. Under his leadership the HTL (HTPL) grew to four faculty, regularly had over 20 graduate student research assistants as well as several postdocs and visitors, and became one of the most highly regarded plasma research laboratories in the world.
Professor Pfender worked primarily in the area of thermal plasmas, with particular emphases on plasma heat transfer and plasma processing of materials. He conducted pioneering studies on anode heat transfer in electric arcs. His 1967 publication, together with Eckert, of “Advances in Plasma Heat Transfer,” in Advances in Heat Transfer, became a fundamental and frequently cited reference in this area. Professor Pfender also performed extensive studies of plasma synthesis of ultrafine powders, later termed “nanoparticles,” developed processes for using thermal plasmas to deposit thin films and coatings of diamond, and conducted extensive research on plasma spraying to apply protective ceramic coatings to surfaces, for applications ranging from jet engine turbine blades to hip implants.
In 1980, together with S. Veprek, then of the University of Zürich, Prof. Pfender co-founded the journal Plasma Chemistry and Plasma Processing, and served for twenty-five years as its co-Editor-in-Chief.  The journal, now in its 37th year, remains one of the most important in its field. Together with M. I. Boulos, of the University of Sherbrooke in Canada, and P. Fauchais, of the University of Limoges in France, Professor Pfender coauthored volume 1 of the textbook, Thermal Plasmas: Fundamentals and Applications. This work remains a standard reference source for researchers in the field.
pfender3Professor Pfender was elected to the National Academy of Engineering in 1986. In 1995 he was the first recipient of the Plasma Chemistry Award, then given by the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry, and subsequently awarded by the International Plasma Chemistry Society after its founding in 2000. The award, given to a single individual once every two years, remains the highest award of the Society, for lifetime achievement in plasma chemistry. Professor Pfender became a Fellow of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers in 1981. He received many international awards, including the Alexander von Humboldt Award of the German Government (1978), the Gold Honorary F. Krizik Medal for Merit in the Field of Technical Sciences of the Czech Academy of Sciences, and the Honorary Doctor’s degree from the Technical University of Ilmenau, Germany.  Additionally he received the Adams Memorial Membership Award of the American Welding Society (1966) and the Certificate of Recognition from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (1996).
The University of Minnesota awarded Professor Pfender a Distinguished Alumni Professorship in 1989 and the Ernst Eckert Professorship in 1994. He formally retired from the University in 2000, but as an Emeritus Professor he remained up to the time of his death an active member of the Graduate Faculty in Mechanical Engineering, coadvising several Ph.D. students.
Professor Pfender and his wife Maja were married in 1954. In addition to Maja, he is survived by two sons (Roland and Norbert), one daughter (Corinne), six grandchildren (Cass, Loren, Kurt, Maia, Julia and Clara), and one great-grandchild, Cassidy.
In addition to spending time with his family, Emil Pfender enjoyed hunting and forestry, and was a connoisseur of fine wine. He was known to his friends and colleagues as a true gentleman, unfailingly gracious and generous. He will be deeply missed by the M.E. community.

If you feel called to do so, memorials are preferred to: The Emil Pfender Mechanical Engineering Fellowship Fund. P.O. Box 860266, Minneapolis, MN 55486-0266. Gifts should be made out to the University of Minnesota Foundation.