George Thodos, retired chemical engineering prof., dies at 84

George Thodos, a professor of chemical engineering at Northwestern for almost four decades, died Feb. 29 in Washington D.C., from leukemia. He was 84.

After coming to NU in 1947, Thodos taught both graduate and undergraduate students. He also served as chair of the chemical engineering department from 1960 to 1964.

Before retiring as a professor emeritus in 1986, Thodos published more than 275 technical papers in chemical engineering and held seven patents.

“We all enjoyed working with George over the years,” said chemical engineering Prof. Joshua Dranoff. “He was very methodical and careful with his work.”

Dranoff said Thodos often went out of his way to help students with classwork and in labs.

“He spent a great deal of time with his students,” Dranoff said. “As a teacher, he was very respected and his students had a very strong appreciation for his efforts in class.”

Dranoff said his eagerness to help students often kept Thodos in meetings as late as 2 a.m.

His daughter, Diane Thodos, said she also remembers students coming to their house to get help after classes.

“His students said that what he taught them was very rigorous and difficult training,” Diane Thodos said. “But they were very grateful for it.”

She said students from all over the world requested to work with her father.

“They would bring pictures and statues from home, so his office had a strange mixture of lab equipment and art,” she said.

In addition to teaching, Thodos researched ways to capture solar energy and physical properties of materials.

“There was a kind of creative intensity in his research, and he passed that creativity onto us,” said Diane Thodos, who is an artist. “He really enjoyed working with his hands, and he was a regular and dedicated hard worker. He always practiced a thorough, investigative research that was almost an art form.”

She said she remembers going to the lab with her father when she was young to help him with projects.

“It made me very capable with making things on my own and problem solving,” Diane Thodos said.

Before coming to NU, Thodos worked with other researchers to make a synthetic rubber during World War II.

“He got the idea about how to prevent water from bubbling out of a tank from watching a bartender at the bar,” Diane Thodos said. “When they poured a beer, it would foam over the edge. But he noticed if they would put butter on the glass, it wouldn’t.”

Thodos used his observation to perfect the use of synthetic rubber.

Thodos is survived by his first wife, of 39 years, Lena; a second wife, Dianne Nichols; a son, Jason; four daughters, Melissa Johnston, Anna Ratas, Diane and Christina; a grandson, Alexander George Ratas; and siblings Theresa Presvelos, James Thomas and Harry Thodos.

Memorial services will held April 9 at the Annunciation Greek Orthodox Cathedral at 1017 N. LaSalle Dr. in Chicago.

In lieu of flowers, his family requests donations in his name to the Leukemia Lymphoma Society of Illinois.