Longtime Professor Clausen Leaves Legacy in Chemistry

by Gene Kruckemyer

Professor Christian Clausen III, one of UCF’s longest-serving faculty members who taught at the university from 1969—the year after classes started—until his retirement in 2016, died Jan. 4 while visiting family in New Orleans. He was 77.

During his tenure as a key figure in the Department of Chemistry, Clausen taught physical and inorganic chemistry, general chemistry, and graduate level courses for many thousands of students. He also was instrumental in developing the first graduate program in the department, the M.S. in industrial chemistry. Much of his research focused on developing new, environmentally friendly materials and synthesizing catalytic agents that help destroy toxic materials already in existence.

“He was among the first of our faculty to engage in partnerships with regional industry and [Kennedy Space Center], and among the first to pursue patents for his discovery,” said MJ Soileau, a professor in the College of Optics & Photonics and former vice president of UCF’s Office of Research and Commercialization.

“He was an absolutely devoted teacher at the undergrad and graduate level. He found ways to have Ph.D. students obtain their degrees at sister State University System institutions during the period before we had a Ph.D. in chemistry at UCF. It is no exaggeration to say that Chris set the stage for us to be America’s partnership university, long before anyone started using that term.”

For his work, Clausen was presented the Florida Academy of Sciences’ 2003 Medalist Award for his outstanding contributions in science and in 2007 was inducted into the Space Technology Hall of Fame for helping develop a technology that cleans up water and soils contaminated by harsh, chlorinated solvents.

Colleagues not only remember him for his contributions in and out of the classroom, but also his generous nature.

“Dr. Clausen touched so many lives in his career through his teaching, research, support and dedication to his students, the department and UCF,” said Professor Cherie Yestrebsky, department chair. “His warm, jovial nature, and his love of science will be missed by faculty, staff, and students.”

Clausen also was known for his tailgating at Knights’ games from the very beginning of football at UCF.

“Things were much less formal in those days so he would show up at the Citrus Bowl, set up to cook a Cajun feast, get tickets for community partners, invite students to the tailgate, set up volleyball games in the parking areas, etc.,” Soileau said. “Chris was the most generous, big-hearted person that I have ever known.”

Clausen grew up in New Orleans and earned his bachelor’s degree from Louisiana State University and his doctorate from the University of New Orleans. He was a member of the American Chemical Society and owned a consultant company, Scientific Specialists Consulting.

He and his widow, Julia, were married for 55 years. He also is survived by son Christian IV; daughters Crystal C. Harmon and Christina Clausen; grandchildren and extended family members.

Family and friends are planning a “celebration of life” gathering in March.

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