Decades after graduating from Waterloo Engineering, an alumnus is honouring the supportive relationship he had with his doctoral supervisor by funding a professorship in both their names.

Mohamed Azzam (MASc ’71 and PhD ’75, chemical engineering) has launched an endowment for the Azzam-Dullien Endowed Professorship in recognition of Francis Dullien’s commitment to him while he was a PhD student and post-doctoral researcher.

Azzam describes Dullien, a Waterloo chemical engineering professor from 1966 until his retirement in 1994, as his mentor, motivator,Francis Dullien head shot from the 70s.jpg educator and friend.

“He guided my research every step of the way and encouraged me to perfect every aspect of my projects,” says Azzam.

Francis Dullien's chemical engineering department photo taken in the 1970s.  

While Dullien was known throughout Waterloo’s chemical engineering department to be tough and demanding, Azzam says their relationship was built on mutual respect and admiration.

“We had intense project discussions, we socialized, and towards the end of my PhD program we regularly played tennis, a sport we both loved,” he says.

A memory and a favour he never forgot

One of Azzam’s best memories of his professor was when Dullien chose Howard Brenner, the world’s foremost authority on computational fluid dynamics at the time, as the external examiner for the oral defense of Azzam’s thesis on a topic related to the Carnegie Mellon University professor’s research expertise.

Sensing Azzam’s reluctance to have Brenner as part of his thesis examining committee, Dullien purchased his student a plane ticket to Pittsburgh so he could personally deliver his work to Brenner who later taught at the University of Rochester and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

“I knew he wanted to calm my nerves and spare me the shock of facing Professor Brenner for the first time on the day of the oral defense,” says Azzam. “It is a memory and a favour I never forgot.”

Later acknowledging that Dullien’s choice of external examiner was a “brilliant” decision, Azzam says Brenner’s involvement brought significantMohamed Azzam recognition to his research and made it easier to have it published in top engineering journals.

Mohamed Azzam

Azzam also feels Brenner’s participation in the defense of his thesis helped him receive a National Research Council of Canada postdoctoral fellowship.

After completing his postdoctoral work at Waterloo, Azzam accepted a teaching position as an assistant professor at King Abdul-Aziz University located in Saudi Arabia.

Returning to Canada in 1977, he held senior science and engineering research positions at the Research Centres of Xerox, Gulf Oil and Petro Canada.

He joined G.A. Paper International Inc. at the end of 1986 where he served as vice-president of the company and president of the containerboard division.

“For many years, I looked for the opportunity to honour Professor Dullien to show my gratitude and appreciation of the wonderful productive years my wife and I spent at UW and to recognize an exceptional student-professor relationship,” says Azzam. “The idea of the Azzam-Dullin Endowed Professorship was a no-brainer.” 

'A happy surprise' 

Dullien was both grateful and humbled when he was recently told about the professorship. Francis and Ann in a chemcial engineeirng lab in the 1990s

“I had a number of excellent graduate students over the years, and Dr. Azzam was one of them. Even so, to go to these great lengths to help and encourage future professors in our joint names is a happy surprise and a great honour for me,” says Dullien. “I wish, in all humility, to thank him for this generous act.”

Francis Dullien and his future wife Ann in 1984. Ann was Dullien's chemical engineering research technician at the time.

Carrying on a tradition of excellence

Mario Ioannidis, chair of chemical engineering, says the new position will research transport in porous media. 

“Continuing a tradition of excellence in the study of porous media at Waterloo’s chemical engineering department, the Azzam-Dullien Endowed Professor will lead an internationally recognized research group focused on expanding the body of knowledge in transport in porous media,” he says.

The research will impact a wide range of applications involving natural and man-made materials, such as concrete, bone, soil and paper, through which fluids, solutes and particles move or become trapped, explains Ioannidis.

He expects to fill the position sometime this fall with a likely start date of January 1, 2022.  The chemical engineering department will provide the required funding to bridge the time between when the individual begins the role and September 2022 when the endowment is expected to start generating investment income.

The banner photo of Francis Dullien, left, and Mohamed Azzam was taken in September 2021.