Carnegie Mellon University
July 19, 2011

Obituary: Carnegie Mellon's Herbert Lawrence Toor Leaves Lasting Legacy for University and College of Engineering

He's Recognized Among the Top Chemical Engineers of the 20th Century

Contacts: Chriss Swaney / 412-268-5776 /

PITTSBURGH—Herbert Lawrence Toor, former dean of Carnegie Mellon University's engineering college and the emeritus Mobay Professor of Chemical Engineering and Engineering and Public Policy for more than 40 years, passed away Friday, July 15, 2011, from Alzheimer's disease. He was 84. 

ToorA celebration of Toor's life is scheduled for 2 to 4 p.m., Aug. 6 at the Lodge at Otter Creek in Middlebury, Vt., where he lived since retiring from Carnegie Mellon in the early 1990s.

Toor was instrumental in increasing the number of women and minorities into the university's engineering programs. Beginning in 1973 he served as dean of the College of Engineering for nine years and helped spearhead the creation of the university's innovative Department of Engineering and Public Policy (EPP). During that time, Toor was an early pioneer in linking public policy and engineering issues and recruiting more diverse engineering students. He connected the importance of computation to engineering design, something that furthered the reputation of the Chemical Engineering Department at Carnegie Mellon. In 2008, he was named one of the hundred most influential chemical engineers of the second half of the 20th century by the American Institute of Chemical Engineers.

"Herb was a wonderful guy who had enormous impact for the good on Carnegie Mellon, our engineering school and all of us who worked with him," said M. Granger Morgan, the Lord University Professor and head of the Department of Engineering and Public Policy. "Without his leadership our EPP Department would not exist and there would be far fewer women in the world with CIT degrees."

Friends and peers lauded Toor for his pioneering spirit and great wit. Toor often said that the most useful thing he had done in his life was turning a Pittsburgh clay backyard into great soil for growing vegetables through 40 years of composting.

Toor grew up in Philadelphia and enlisted in the U.S. Navy at age 17. After he was discharged as a seaman first class at the end of World War II, Toor earned a bachelor's degree in chemical engineering at Drexel University in 1948, and his master's and Ph.D. degrees in chemical engineering at Northwestern University, where he met and married Elizabeth M. Weir of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.

In 1953, Toor became an assistant professor of chemical engineering at Carnegie Institute of Technology, now Carnegie Mellon. His career matured and he went on to become a full professor, department head and later dean.

"He was a giant in his profession and an early pioneer in linking public policy and engineering issues and recruiting more diverse engineering students," said Pradeep K. Khosla, the Dowd University Professor of Engineering and dean of Carnegie Mellon's top-ranked College of Engineering. "His impact is a lasting legacy for the college and the university."

Paul Sides, professor and associate head of the Department of Chemical Engineering, said Toor had a profound influence both on the profession as a whole, and on its expression at Carnegie Mellon. "He saw very early the importance of computation to engineering design, which led directly to the Department of Chemical Engineering's dominance in that area for the past several decades. Toor's approach to engineering and leadership was rigorous and forward-thinking," Sides said.

Toor's research included topics such as extracting oil from shale to removing sulfur dioxide from stack gases. The "Toor Test" is recognized as the industry standard for assessing relative mixing and reaction rates.

An avid researcher, he wrote for more than 60 publications throughout his career. He was a fellow of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers and the Association for the Advancement of Science, and a member of the prestigious National Academy of Engineering.

He received several awards over his long career, including the 1964 Colburn Award from the American Institute of Chemical Engineers. After his retirement in the early 1990s from CMU, he was named Professor Emeritus and a lecture series was established in his name.