Imperial College London

Celebrating Professor Geoff Hewitt, 1934-2019


Professor Geoff Hewitt

Professor Geoff Hewitt, Emeritus Professor of Chemical Engineering at Imperial College London

We are very sad to share the news that Professor Geoff Hewitt, Emeritus Professor of Chemical Engineering, passed away peacefully on 18 January 2019.

Professor Hewitt was a pioneer in the field of multiphase flow systems, and his achievements in industry and academia are unparalleled. He was a Fellow of the Institute of Chemical Engineers (IChemE), Royal Society, and Royal Academy of Engineering, and served as President of the IChemE from 1989-1990.

Academic and industrial career

Geoff received his PhD from the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology (UMIST) in 1957, having been motivated by his father, who was an engineer, to study chemical engineering. After completing his degree, he worked for the UK Atomic Energy Authority at Harwell, one of Europe’s largest atomic energy research laboratories, as Appointed Division Head and later as Founder and Head of Heat Transfer & Fluid Flow Service.

Geoff Hewitt was a global leader in his field. He was a passionate, dedicated, thoughtful and kind teacher and researcher and leaves an incredible legacy to the Department and the profession. Professor Nilay Shah Head of Department of Chemical Engineering, Imperial College London

He joined the Department of Chemical Engineering at Imperial College London in 1985 as a Professor and was promoted first to Courtaulds Professor of Chemical Engineering in 1993, then later to Emeritus Professor in 1999.  Professor Nilay Shah, current Head of the Department of Chemical Engineering, said: "Geoff Hewitt was a global leader in his field. He was a passionate, dedicated, thoughtful and kind teacher and researcher and leaves an incredible legacy to the Department and the profession. He was tremendously popular with students and staff alike; he had time for everyone and his positive attitude and enthusiasm would light up a room."

Professor Hewitt’s research into multi-phase flow systems, with a particular focus on channel flow and heat transfer, leaves a lasting legacy particularly in industrial applications, and has made Imperial’s name synonymous with the gold standard in this area.

In 1996 he founded the Imperial-led Transient Multiphase Flows (TMF) programme, one of only two enduring joint industry programmes (JIP) worldwide. One of its sponsors commented on the initiative: “…it is clear that the TMF-related research activities, both modelling and experimental, have led to significant improvements in our ability to simulate the essential physics of multiphase pipe flow, and thus to maintain our position as market leaders”.

Geoff’s work continues to be used in calculations needed in hydrocarbon extraction systems design and thermal power plants, and in the production of chemical machinery, such as separators and heat-exchange units. In addition to the numerous papers and books he published, Geoff also delivered lectures around the world and carried out extensive consultancy work.

Awards and honours

Many awards and honours have marked Professor Hewitt’s career, including the prestigious MM Sharma Medal, awarded by IChemE in 2017 for “significant contributions to chemical engineering research and practice over a period of 60 years”. This was proceeded by the Global Energy Prize in 2007, an international award for outstanding scientific research and technological development in energy. When accepting the award, Professor Hewitt said: “It’s strange to receive a prize for something I just love to do so much”.

Other accolades include the Imperial College Medal (2016), and the Max Jacob Memorial Award (1995) from the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME). Geoff was one of just three U.K. recipients since its inception in 1961. He also received honorary degrees from the University of Louvain, Belgium (1988), and Heriot Watt University, Edinburgh (1995), and was a Foreign Member of the National Academy of Engineering in the US.

Reflecting on Geoff’s career, Professor Omar Matar, a former colleague said: “He leaves behind a body of work, which most people can only dream of both in terms volume and impact, and a large number of students and postdocs that worshipped him, and will be forever grateful for the honour to have worked with him.”

Personal impact

In addition to his professional achievements, Geoff had a profound impact on those who knew him and was beloved by many. Professor Matar began working with Geoff in 1999, and the two developed a close friendship. “It is difficult to think of someone more ambitious, passionate, compassionate, dedicated, cultured, and refined than Geoff; hard to imagine anyone more generous of spirit.” He added “Just like everyone that knew Geoff, I’m struggling with the fact that he’s no longer here. And so, I prefer to think that (just as his current email auto-reply message says) “Professor Hewitt is currently out of the office for the foreseeable future”.  

We would like to express our thanks to Professor Hewitt for his contributions to the department and to chemical engineering. Our thoughts and condolences are with his family at this time.

Imperial College London has established a student support fund in Geoff’s memory. For more information, or if alumni or friends feel they would like to make a gift in Geoff’s memory, they can contribute by visiting the page on the College website.



Sara West

Sara West
Department of Chemical Engineering

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