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UCLA Engineering 2023 Award Recipients

Profile of the Lifetime Contribution Awardee

Eldon Knuth

Apr 27, 2023

UCLA Samueli Newsroom


very year, the UCLA Samueli School of Engineering selects and recognizes outstanding achievements by a number of its alumni, faculty members and students who have excelled in various fields. Below is a profile of the University Service Award recipient.


Lifetime Contribution Award
Eldon Knuth
Professor Emeritus of Chemical and
Biomolecular Engineering

The late Eldon Knuth, a professor emeritus of chemical and biomolecular engineering, had a remarkable career on the UCLA faculty. But perhaps even more impressive was his service to the United States as a decorated World War II veteran.

The Iowa native was only 18 when he was drafted into the Army just weeks into his first semester in college. He was assigned to the 95th Infantry Division, which was deployed to France in September 1944 to liberate the northeast city of Metz from German occupation. In mid-November, Knuth was one of 30 soldiers who found themselves pinned behind enemy lines during an attack on a fort outside the city. For five cold and wet days, the besieged infantry had no shelter or warm clothes, surviving only on rationed chocolate bars dropped from an artillery aircraft before finally being rescued by Allied troops three days before the German occupying force surrendered.

For nine months after the mission, Knuth was hospitalized for trench foot from being immersed in slush — a painful condition that would stay with him for the rest of his life. Despite his injuries, Knuth continued his education after being medically discharged from the Army. He attended Purdue University in Indiana, earning both bachelor’s and master’s degrees in aeronautical engineering, followed by a Ph.D. in aeronautics from Caltech, which he received in 1953.

After a short stint working in the Los Angeles aerospace industry, Knuth joined UCLA in 1956 as an associate researcher and became a full professor in 1965. His research interests centered on molecular beams — a stream of single molecules, often inside a vacuum — that can help elucidate fundamental properties of the molecules under study. Knuth taught undergraduate and graduate classes on thermodynamics, fluid mechanics, combustion processes, molecular dynamics and other related topics. He authored or co-authored more than 100 scientific papers and wrote several books, including an introductory textbook on statistical thermodynamics. 

Throughout his 35-year tenure at UCLA until his retirement in 1991, Knuth twice served as an academic unit chair — first with the Chemical, Nuclear and Thermal Division from 1963 to 1965, then as chair of the Energy and Kinetics Department from 1969 to 1975.  

Nearly 75 years after his service in World War II, Knuth received a pair of major honors in recognition of his meritorious actions during the battle of Metz. In 2019, Knuth was appointed a knight in the French National Order of the Legion of Honor — the highest French order of merit bestowed on civilians and military personnel. In September 2020, the Army presented Knuth with a Bronze Star

Shortly before his passing in February this year, Knuth learned that he was selected to receive the 2023 UCLA Samueli Lifetime Contribution Award in recognition of his service to the country and to UCLA as a teacher, mentor and researcher. He will be recognized posthumously at the UCLA Samueli Awards Dinner in May.

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