Michael Streat, 1937–2019

Article by Rolf Clayton FIChemE

PROFESSOR Michael Streat, an eminent chemical engineer and a leading expert in separation processes, especially adsorption and ion exchange technology, died from cancer on 25 April, aged 81. He started his academic career at the UK’s Imperial College London before moving to the Department of Chemical Engineering at Loughborough University in 1992 as Head of the Department. After retiring from Loughborough he returned to Imperial College as a Visiting Professor, where he lectured on nuclear technology.

Michael was born on 23 July 1937 in Breslau (today Wrocław in Poland, but then the capital of Lower Silesia in Germany) into an educated Jewish family, the older of two sons. It was not a good time to be Jewish in Germany but his parents had managed to get permits to South America and arranged to travel there via the UK. They arrived in Dover on 4 April 1939 and went to stay, temporarily they hoped, with a relative in Alkrington near Manchester who provided the necessary financial guarantees. However, the family’s travel plans were thwarted by the outbreak of war with Germany on 1 September 1939, so they stayed on in Alkrington. Michael arrived at his primary school in Alkrington still speaking German and with little English – not the easiest start at a time when the country was at war with Germany!

Michael arrived at his primary school in Alkrington still speaking German and with little English – not the easiest start at a time when the country was at war with Germany!

Michael took his 11-plus exam but failed at his first attempt. However, he overcame the difficulties and passed at the second attempt and won a place at nearby Middleton Grammar School. Although a year behind he flourished in his new school and rapidly caught up academically. Michael’s father worked for a local chemical company where Michael got the chance to do a work-experience placement which aroused his interest in the chemical industry and in chemical engineering. He went on to study the subject at the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology (UMIST, which amalgamated with the Victoria University of Manchester in 2004 to become the University of Manchester).

He then went to Imperial College London to study for a PhD between 1958 and 1961, where the was the first research student to work in the field of nuclear technology with Geoffrey Hall (later Professor G R Hall) as his supervisor. His thesis was on The Design and Construction of a Cobalt Irradiated Cell and its Application to a Study of the Effects of Gamma Radiation on Ion Exchange Resins.

He described his experiences in a piece he wrote for Imperial College’s centenary celebrations in 2007. This set the course for much of his academic career, during which he published over 100 papers and chapters in technical books on a wide range of aspects of  ion exchange and adsorption and their application in many fields including nuclear engineering, water and wastewater treatment, and pollution control.

After becoming a lecturer in the Department of Chemical Engineering at Imperial College, Michael gradually developed an international reputation in the field of ion exchange and became something of a fixture at the Society of Chemical Industry’s International Ion Exchange Conference (IEX), held every four years in Cambridge and where he briefly appeared at the last event in 2016. He left Imperial College in 1989 to become Head of Department of Chemical Engineering at Loughborough University where he stayed until his nominal retirement in 2001 at which time he returned to Imperial as a Visiting Professor lecturing in nuclear technology. During his time at Loughborough he built up the Department of Chemical Engineering into one of the top ten departments in the UK.

Michael became Chartered in 1968 and a Fellow of IChemE in 1980. His achievements in the fields of ion exchange and adsorption were recognised in 1996 with the Society of Chemical Industry’s Ion Exchange Award and in July 2000 when he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering.

Michael met his future wife Carole, who survives him, whilst doing his PhD at Imperial. They had two children, a son Simon and a daughter Denise. Michael’s brother Norman survives him and now lives in Vancouver, Canada. Michael had a passion for sport, and in his younger days he played football and tennis – and not surprisingly he was a keen supporter of Manchester United football club. He had a keen sense of humour which he retained to the very end.         

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