Irving Wender received his undergraduate degree in chemistry at the City College of New York in 1936, followed by an MS in chemistry at Columbia University (which was interrupted by WWII during which he worked on the Manhattan Project), and a Ph.D. in chemistry at the University of Pittsburgh, studying the kinetics and mechanism of homogeneously catalyzed hydroformylation (oxo) reactions. This was followed by an illustrious career, first in fundamental, then in applied research, as Project Coordinator, then Research Director, and finally as Director of the Pittsburgh Energy Research Center, U.S. Bureau of Mines. Subsequently, he was Special Advisor to the Program Director, Fossil Energy (FE), at the Department of Energy (DOE), Special Assistant to the Secretary of Fossil Energy, and finally Director, Office of Advanced Research and Technology Development, FE, DOE, in Washington, DC.
In 1981, he accepted a position as Research Professor in the Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering at the University of Pittsburgh, and in 1994, was named Distinguished University Research Professor of Engineering.
Dr. Wender authored over 200 papers (including eight in Nature and two in Science), edited five books and was awarded eleven patents. Among his numerous awards and honors are: the inaugural H.H. Storch Award in Fuel Science in 1964, for distinguished contributions to the science and utilization of coal; the Pittsburgh Award of the American Chemical Society for outstanding contributions to chemistry in 1968; the K.K. Kelley Award of the Department of Interior for contributions to coal chemistry and catalysis in 1969; and the American Chemical Society Award in Petroleum Chemistry and the Pittsburgh Catalysis Society Award in recognition of outstanding achievements in the field of catalysis, both in 1982. In November 1988, he became the first recipient of the Homer H. Lowry Award, presented by the Secretary of Energy in Washington, DC, “in recognition of advancing fossil energy technology through highly innovative research on catalytic conversion of syngas to fuels and chemicals, coal liquefaction and decisive guidance and inspirational leadership in shaping research programs in government, academia and industry.”
As the most fitting tribute, Dr. Wender was recognized by his colleagues on his 100th birthday, June 19, 2015, on the final day of the NAM24 conference, which was hosted by the Pittsburgh-Cleveland Catalysis Society in Pittsburgh and for which he served as honorary chair.