top of page

Joe W. Hightower’s recounts that was printed in the 2011 symposium program; edited by Jeffrey Rimer.

The origin of the Society began in 1967 when there was an organizational meeting at Rice University to bring together people working in the area of catalysis.  There were 63 people as charter members of what was to become the Southwest Catalysis Club. Jim Richardson (Esso Research and Engineering) drafted the Bylaws and was elected Vice President.  Jack Lunsford (Texas A&M University) was Secretary, Paul Conn (Shell Oil) was the Treasurer, and Joe Hightower (Rice University) served as the first elected President.  The officers held the first all-day Spring Symposium in May 1968, marking the beginning of the Southwest Catalysis Society (SWCS) that has continued for more than 45 years.  At the time SWCS started, there were about half a dozen “Catalysis Clubs” scattered around the country: Chicago, Pittsburgh, New York, Philadelphia, California, and perhaps one more.  Many of the original officers were encouraged by the other clubs to start one in the Southwest.  Early decisions included the number of states to include.  Texas was an obvious choice owing to the large number of (petro)chemical companies in the region.  Arkansas was included because of Sam Siegel (University of Arkansas), Louisiana was included because of several researchers at Esso in Baton Rouge, Oklahoma was home to several Conoco Phillips researchers, and New Mexico was selected based on a number of catalysis researchers at the University of New Mexico and Sandia National Laboratory.  In spite of the long distances, people from all five states attended meetings held twice a year, which sometimes had attendance near 200.  Most of the early meetings were held on the Rice campus or in an auditorium at Shell (Westhollow).  In later years, the meeting was held in nearby places like Austin, College Station, New Orleans, and the University of Houston.

There were several events in the 1960s that made it an optimal time to establish the SWCS.  The biggest factor was Shell downsizing its labs in Emeryville, CA and moving most its catalysis people to Westhollow.  At the same time, Esso was increasing its applied catalysis work both in Baytown, TX and in Baton Rouge, LA.  For several years, Phillips Petroleum had been accumulating an amazing number of patents in catalysis at their laboratories in Bartlesville.  Bob Eischens came from New York and was applying his pioneering infrared studies at Texaco in Port Arthur.  Celanese had several catalysis people doing research near Corpus Christi.  Monsanto rebuilt factories in Texas City following one of the largest US chemical plant explosions of an ammonium nitrate ship in the mid-40s.  Workers at the newly built site were doing research on improving catalytic processes for styrene and acrylonitrile manufacture.  Petrotex Chemical in Pasadena (located on Houston's ship channel), was optimizing its butadiene and C4 olefins production through catalytic processes.


In addition, catalysis groups were springing up at several universities, including surface science studies by John White at the University of Texas, Jack Lunsford's and Wayne Goodman's highly productive groups at Texas A&M, Richard Gonzales at Tulane, Jim Richardson at the University of Houston, Kerry Dooley at Louisiana State University, Tom Leland and Joe Hightower at Rice University, and additional groups at other universities in the 5-state region.  What was lacking at the time was a formal mechanism for these diverse groups to exchange information and network.  The time was ripe for an organization where catalysis could be openly discussed.  Although much catalysis research in industry is proprietary, enough was sufficiently open to create a stimulating environment for sharing mutual interests, many focusing on new ultra-high vacuum analytical equipment that was being rapidly developed.  The first thing we did was to organize an NSF-supported workshop, which concluded that more funding was needed for research on catalysts for fuels, environmental protection (i.e., catalytic converters), and chemicals, among other topics.  At that time, demand was also great for new employees with catalysis training, but the supply was quite limited.  This provided an occasion for the development of short courses to train industrial employees in heterogeneous catalysis.  Several courses were started around the country.  One of the most successful was a course started by Rice University and the University of Houston (UH) and that is still ongoing at UH after more than 35 years.  In many respects, SWCS was instrumental in starting these heterogeneous catalysis short courses.


In the 1970’s, the SWCS was invited to join other Catalysis Clubs throughout the country as a part of the growing North American Catalysis Society (NACS).  The SWCS had the honor of hosting its first biennial North American Meeting (NAM-2) in February 1971, which was held at the Astrodome Hotel in Houston.  Joe Hightower and Jim Richardson were General and Associate Chairs of the meeting, while Paul Venuto (Mobil Research) was in charge of the Program.  At that meeting, R. J. Kokes (Johns Hopkins University) and H. S. Bloch (Universal Oil Products) were recipients, respectively, of the first Paul H. Emmett and Eugene J. Houdry Awards in fundamental and applied catalysis.  In 1985, the Southwest Catalysis Society was again called on to host a five-day 9th North American Meeting (NAM-9) at Houston's Adam's Mark Hotel.  At this meeting, Jack Lunsford and Lynn Slaugh were General and Vice Chairs, and Joe Hightower was Technical Program Chair.  The last NAM Meeting hosted by SWCS was at Houston's downtown Hilton Americas Hotel in 2007.  Organizers included SWCS officers Kerry Dooley, Brendan Murray, Scott Mitchell, Michael Reynolds, YunFeng Chang, and Michael Wong.  Collectively, the SWCS has hosted 3 NACS events: 1971 (NAM-2), 1985 (NAM-9), and 2007 (NAM-20).


The Southwest Catalysis Society hosts its annual Spring Symposium in April each year.  In 2015, the Fall Seminar series was started at the University of Houston as an event for members and local researchers in the Greater Houston Area.  The inaugural speaker was Israel Wachs (Lehigh University).  The SWCS continues to provide a valuable environment for academic and industrial researchers to exchange ideas, network, and promote catalysis research.  In 2017 the society’s website was created to document meetings and events, and to disseminate news and information about catalysis related meetings and conferences.  If you are not a member of the society, we encourage you to join and be a part of the growing network of catalysis researchers in the Southwest!

bottom of page