Engineering’s Robert Savinell to be recognized as Distinguished University Professor

Robert Savinell CWRUDuring his high school career on Cleveland’s West Side, one of Robert F. Savinell’s teachers said he needed to choose a field of focus. He selected chemistry and immediately hit the ground running.

After graduating from Cleveland State University with a degree in chemical engineering, Savinell enrolled at the University of Pittsburgh to obtain master’s and PhD degrees in the same subject. It was during his time at Pitt that he was exposed to electrochemistry and the mentorship of Chung-Chiun Liu, now a Case Western Reserve University Distinguished University Professor.

Years later, Savinell, the George S. Dively Professor of Engineering and a professor of chemical engineering, is an internationally recognized scholar in the field of electrochemistry and a cornerstone for the Case Western Reserve electrochemical community. His achievements have earned him the university’s top honor for its faculty—Distinguished University Professor—a title he now shares with his longtime mentor.

“I feel deeply honored by this recognition, and thank my wife Coletta, my family, my colleagues and my students for their support throughout my professional career—especially here at Case Western Reserve,” said Savinell.

The permanent, honorific title recognizes the outstanding contributions of full-time, tenured professors with exceptional academic records of research, scholarship, teaching and service. Savinell, along with law professor Maxwell Mehlman and medicine professor Stanton Gerson, will receive the title during fall convocation Wednesday, Aug. 28, beginning at 4:30 p.m. in Severance Hall.

After receiving master’s and doctoral degrees in chemical engineering at the University of Pittsburgh, Savinell worked for several years as a research scientist for the Diamond Shamrock Corporation and on the faculty of the University of Akron before joining the Case Western Reserve faculty in 1986 as an associate professor of chemical engineering.

“There are four primary facts that attracted me to CWRU: The university has an international reputation for leadership in electrochemistry and electrochemical engineering; CWRU has depth and strength in a number of science and engineering fields; the strong collegiality of the faculty; and the high quality of the students,” said Savinell.

Savinell’s work in electrochemistry includes research of batteries, sensors, fuel cells and energy storage, with fundamental contributions spanning more than 35 years, 17 PhD students, 34 master’s students, more than 120 peer-reviewed publications and eight patents. His recent work involves creating a flow battery primarily using iron and water—designed to improve the efficiency of the power grid and accelerate the addition of solar and wind power supplies.

“Both myself personally and the school as a whole are thrilled that Professor Savinell is receiving this honor,” said Jeffrey L. Duerk, dean of the Case School of Engineering. “His longstanding work in electrochemical engineering has had a tremendous impact on the development of fuel cells, and now his research breakthroughs are bringing cost-effective, industrial-scale energy storage that much closer to broad implementation.”

His visionary leadership led to a center-grant for the Wright Fuel Cell Group, which later formed the Great Lakes Energy Institute. During his time as dean of the Case School of Engineering from 2000 to 2007, Savinell increased research funding and spearheaded the undergraduate research program Support of Undergraduate Research and Creative Endeavors (SOURCE).

Savinell has been active teaching all levels of students at the university. He developed one of the earlier SAGES University seminars on fuel cells and energy, which he has taught multiple times. This fall he is teaching a SAGES First Seminar on fuel cells that gives students hands-on fuel cell testing and design experiences.

“I love teaching,” said Savinell. “It’s very invigorating to see how rapidly students can evolve in terms of critical thinking and writing. By the time graduate students are done, they are competing with scientists around the world.”

Savinell has served in a number of leadership positions both at the university and in professional organizations, including being the former director of the Yeager Center for Electrochemical Sciences at Case Western Reserve University, past-vice president of the International Society of Electrochemistry, past-chair of the Electrolytic and Electrochemical Engineering Division of the Electrochemical Society (ECS), , and the former North American editor of the Journal of Applied Electrochemistry. Earlier this year, the ECS appointed Savinell as editor of its electrochemistry science and technology journals.

He also has been recognized by his peers through election to the status of Fellow of the Electrochemical Society, the American Institute of Chemical Engineers, and the International Society of Electrochemistry.

At Case Western Reserve, Savinell serves on Faculty Senate, Executive Committee and Past Chair of the Case School of Engineering Executive Committee, among other responsibilities.  He is on the advisory board of the Great Lakes Energy Institute and chairs its technical subcommittee.

“I am humbled to be selected to receive CWRU’s top honor,” Savinell said. “ I feel so fortunate that my interests in teaching, scholarship, and service have aligned so well with values of the university. This honor is the pinnacle of my career.”