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March 31, 2003
Volume 81, Number 13
CENEAR 81 13 p. 47
ISSN 0009-2347

Levelt Sengers Garners L'Oréal UNESCO Award

CAREER HONOR Levelt Sengers receives her award from Lindsay Owen-Jones, CEO of L'Oréal, at the Paris ceremony. STEPHANE CARDINALE/PEOPLE AVENUE/CORBIS
Johanna (Anneke) Levelt Sengers, scientist emeritus at the National Institute of Standards & Technology (NIST), Gaithersburg, Md., is the North American recipient of the 2003 Women in Science Award presented last month in Paris by the cosmetics company L'Oréal and the international organization UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific & Cultural Organization.

The L'Oréal-UNESCO Women in Science Program aims to improve the position of women in science by recognizing outstanding women researchers who have contributed to scientific progress. The award consists of $100,000. It distinguishes five remarkable women researchers representing five geographic areas: Africa, Asia-Pacific, Europe, Latin America, and North America. Pierre-Gilles de Gennes, 1991 Physics Nobel Laureate, presided over an international jury of 10 eminent scientists who chose the winners.

During her 40 years at NIST, Levelt Sengers has made internationally recognized contributions, both theoretical and experimental, to the fields of thermodynamics and critical phenomena of fluids (fluid behavior near or at the point when a vapor becomes indistinguishable from a liquid).

Supercritical fluids have come into their own as nontoxic, environmentally friendly, pressure-tunable solvents for many separation processes, such as extraction and purification of expensive foodstuffs and fragrances and production of fine powders from solutions.

To design these processes, an understanding is needed of the behavior of dilute solutions near the critical point of a solvent. Levelt Sengers and her collaborators have contributed to this understanding by developing the theory and by writing tutorial chapters based on her earlier work.

The research of Levelt Sengers has centered on the behavior of fluids near critical points. She showed that fluids obey the universal critical-point scaling laws first discovered in theoretical models and magnetic systems. She demonstrated that water/steam falls in this universality class. With her collaborators, she published extensively on properties of near-critical fluids and fluid mixtures of importance in the chemical process industry. She and her NIST colleagues, working in an international setting, have contributed in many ways to better characterization of water and steam properties for scientific applications and for the electric power industry.

Supercritical water/steam is used in materials processing and in the proposed method of supercritical water oxidation of toxic waste. With industry eager for methods cleaner and safer than incineration to dispose of hazardous and toxic waste, oxidation of organics in a medium of supercritical water offers such an alternative, resulting in nontoxic effluents. Properties of supercritical water acquired at NIST for the benefit of the electric power industry were readily available for this new application.

Throughout her career, Levelt Sengers has shown an interest in and talent for disseminating knowledge through her lectures and reviews. Born and educated in the Netherlands, she has a fascination for the Netherlands-based history of her field, as exemplified in her recent book, "How Fluids Unmix." She is a member of the National Academy of Engineering and the National Academy of Sciences.


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