Riki Kobayashi, the Louis Calder Professor Emeritus in Chemical Engineering, died July 19.
A Rice alumnus who earned a B.S. in chemical engineering in 1944, Kobayashi joined the Rice faculty in 1951 after earning a master’s (1947) and doctorate (1951) from the University of Michigan. He became the Louis Calder Professor in Chemical Engineering in 1967 and then professor emeritus in 1994.
He was the author with others of the Handbook of Natural Gas Engineering in 1949, a still much-used reference work in the field, as well as nearly 200 professional journal articles. He was characterized at an AIChE Symposium in his honor in 1987 as “one of the century’s most prolific researchers in thermodynamic and transport properties,” pioneering the measurement of hydrocarbon vapor-water-gas equilibrium, phase transitions and molecular diffusivity and the use of laser light scattering to measure properties in the critical region. His achievements included the invention of differential kinetics. The Gas Processors Association recognized his lifetime accomplishments with their first Donald Katz Award in 1985.
Kobayashi was a Fellow of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers and the American Institute of Chemists and a member of the National Academy of Engineering and the Academy of Medicine, Engineering & Science of Texas, the Japan Institute of Chemical Engineering as well as AIChE, AIME, ACS, Sigma Chi, Alpha Chi Sigma, Tau Beta Pi, Phi Lambda Upsilon and Phi Kappa Phi. Kobayashi was the recipient of the Outstanding Engineering Award at Rice in 1985 and the Albert Einstein Medal from the Russian Academy of Natural Sciences in 2010.
Kobayashi loved teaching and research and felt that they were equally important to a university. Many of his former students contributed to a fellowship that was set up in his honor. He also loved sports and enjoyed tossing a football or a pick-up game of basketball with his students. While he was “Dr. Kobayashi” to his undergraduates, he was “Riki” to all his graduate students, except for those from Japan to whom he was the more respectful “sensei” (teacher). He kept in close touch with them. He and his wife, Lee, invited graduates and undergraduates to their home for food, swimming and backyard volleyball games.
Kobayashi’s funeral was July 22 at Forest Park East Funeral Home in Webster. A memorial service will be held at the Rice University Chapel sometime in early August.
Contributions to his memory may be sent to the Riki Kobayashi Fellowship in Chemical Engineering at Rice University, 6100 Main St., Houston, TX 77281.