For many years, Professor Emeritus Don Robinson was Edmonton's most dedicated scout leader, recalls his longtime friend George Ford, former Dean of the Faculty of Engineering. "He was the most sincere man I knew."
"He was a good community member and he worked hard for the church, St. Paul's United," says Ford. "He was someone I could trust completely."
When the former chairman of the Department of Chemical Engineering died in October at the age of 76, similar tributes poured in.
"Don Robinson had a long and distinguished career and a marvelous life," recalls another former Dean, Fred Otto, who first encountered Robinson as a second-year chemical engineering student. "His enthusiasm, obvious competence, clarity of presentation, and ability to make material understandable and relevant were an inspiration."
From the time Robinson set foot on campus in 1948 as a young assistant professor, students benefited from that enthusiasm and clarity. He taught countless undergraduates and supervised 27 masters and doctoral students. In the lab, Robinson studied the application of thermodynamics to the oil and gas industry. He was intensely interested in experimental and theoretical research on gas hydrates, solid compounds that form from hydrocarbons in the presence of water, and which cause operating problems in the production of natural gas.
In 1976, in collaboration with his recently graduated PhD student Ding-Yu Peng, he developed the Peng-Robinson Equation. The equation applies to the calculation of vapour-liquid equilibrium of mixtures of hydrocarbons and gases such as hydrogen sulphide and carbon dioxide at elevated temperatures. In the more than 30 years since its initial development and publication, it has been cited thousands of times in engineering literature and is applied in myriad processes and industries every day.
Robinson was born in Calgary, April 3, 1922. His family moved to the Okanagan Valley, where the family made its living on a fruit ranch. He graduated from the local high school in 1940, earned his BASc from the University of British Columbia in 1945, graduated with a Master's degree the following year from UBC, and went on to earn his PhD from the University of Michigan in 1949.
After his distinguished career at the U of A, where he eventually rose to assume the chair of the Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering from 1958 to 1971, Robinson decided to strike out on his own. He founded DB Robinson and Associates Ltd. It proved to be a rewarding decision. The company grew in lockstep with the emergence of a burgeoning oil and gas industry. The company had offices in Edmonton and Houston, performed specialized laboratory services for the petroleum and petrochemical industry around the world, manufactured high pressure and temperature laboratory equipment, and developed and marketed software for the oil and gas industry.
Robinson enjoyed his work, but he was equally at home in the outdoors. He hiked, canoed, curled (he was president of the Balmoral Curling Club), fished, and cross-country skied. The Robinsons often hiked and canoed with George and Doris Moonie. "Don had a great love of nature and an incredible sense of discovery," says Doris, recalling a canoe trip in 1971 the two families did together on the Bowron Lakes in British Columbia. "He also had exceptional organizational skills--everything was meticulously written down and measured to the ounce."
Robinson, a member of many technical societies, earned the RS Jane Memorial Award from the Chemical Institute of Canada, 1980, the Centennial Award from APEGGA, 1981, the Sir Frederick Haultain Prize from the province, 1990, and the prestigious Outstanding Leadership in Alberta Technology Award from Alberta Science and Technology, 1994.
Robinson is survived by his wife, Barbara, four daughters, and 13 grandchildren. The Faculty of Engineering has established a scholarship fund to commemorate Robinson's legacy.