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Chemical Engineering

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Rane Curl | Faculty

Rane Curl

Professor Emeritus, Chemical Engineering


Rane Curl Set Very High Standards for Students

Professor Emeritus Rane Curl retired from the department seventeen years ago. Although he does not particularly miss teaching, Curl says, “I miss working with my associates in the department and being involved with them in teaching and research. I particularly enjoyed developing aspects of the undergraduate laboratory courses, which are important transitions for the students from academic study to practical applications.” First in ChE 360, where uncertainty analysis is also taught, he invented the algorithm for UNCANAL, a program for calculating total uncertainties in computed quantities derived from several different measured values. This shifted the laboratory work to attempting to minimize errors instead of sometimes grueling derivations of the uncertainty relations themselves.

Many alumni will remember Professor Curl from their senior laboratory class, ChE 460. In the 1980s, Curl introduced major changes to the senior laboratory course including “Brown Industries” named after the late George Granger Brown, with a new emphasis on simulating real problems in the experiments, in addition to making laboratory safety and environmental protection concerns more prominent in the course.  

Professor Curl set very high standards of performance for his students. Paul Graham (BSE 94), a student in ChE 460 in 1994 and now a product development specialist at 3M, remembers that Professor Curl had a well-deserved reputation for being very sharp, and not afraid to provide very honest feedback. As a result, it was somewhat intimidating for students to present in front of him.  

Paul recalls, “John Santini (BSE '94) and I and another partner were assigned to the filtration project. It was a struggle to get good data out of it, and there were a few lab periods that went by where we did not get anything useful. Of course, this was leading to higher and higher anxiety on our part because our presentation to Curl was looming, and we had nothing! We made a breakthrough when we went into the lab during off hours. We made measurements that provided a bit of a new theory that helped us to understand some of our prior difficulties. We wrote it up the new measurements and our theory and submitted them to Professor Curl and Professor Donahue. There was quite a bit of suspense because we did not know if this theory was going to be the source of ‘honest feedback’ in Professor Curl’s inimitable style, or, if we were on to something. Our suspense grew as the rest of the class got their online feedback, and we were still waiting.

We made our presentation in G.G. Brown, and, at the end, Professor Curl took one look at us and said, ‘it is an interesting idea.’ Given his reputation and the difficulties that we had faced, this was quite high praise, and we were proud to receive it.” Looking back on the experience, Paul says that the professors who were the most demanding were also the ones who motivated him the most, taught him the most, and made the biggest impact in his life, and he is happy that Professor Curl taught his ChE 460 class."

For some time after Curl retired he volunteered with the American Red Cross, and as a licensed radio amateur served as the local chapter’s communications officer and with Red Cross Disaster Action Teams, and with other public service projects of the ARROW Radio Amateur Club. Until recently he enjoyed caving, skiing and sailing, though currently settles for practicing Tai Chi. Family activities include travel with his wife Alice, with children and their families in New Hampshire, New York, and California.

Curl continues his long-time interest in speleology, the scientific study of caves and other karst features. He served on the boards of the nonprofit Michigan Natural Areas Council, the Karst Waters Institute, and the Michigan Karst Conservancy, of which he was founding president and for which he conducted field projects. He has continued a research program involving mathematical modeling of geomorphic processes in karst.

In addition, he was an advisor and project organizer with the Monroe County Karst Subcommittee of the Monroe-Lenawee Groundwater Stewardship Team, and is currently on the Washtenaw County Natural Areas Technical Advisory Committee, and volunteers with the West Lake Erie Cluster of the Stewardship Network.

Curl has lunch with other ChE emeriti professors on Fridays at Knight’s Steak House on the west side of Ann Arbor. The lunch group includes Rane, Dale Briggs, Frank Donahue, Jim Wilkes and occasional visits from Scott Fogler, who is of course still an active ChE faculty member.

From the 2014 ChE Alumni Newsletter

Short Bio

Professor Curl received a S.B. (ChE, 1951) and a Sc.D. (ChE, 1955) both from MIT. Curl has taught an abundance of chemical engineering courses at the graduate and undergraduate levels and has recently retired as the "Manager of Brown Industries" (ChE 460, Chemical Engineering Laboratory I ). Professor Curl has received the Phi Lambda Upsilon award for excellence in teaching.

Rane Curl previously worked for Shell Development Company from 1955 to 1961 and taught at both the University College London and Technische Hogeschool Eindover in the Netherlands.

Last Updated: Jan. 1997

Research Interests

Mathematical modeling: Recent applications in adsorption, bioreactors, drug delivery and process control.

Karst Geodynamics: Karst systems display interactions of hydrodynamic, chemical kinetic, mass transfer and structural processes. Studies have explored transport on dissolution roughness, kinetics of calcite dissolution, speleothem morphology and geochronology, and "fractal" properties of stratigraphic porosity.