Noble Builds a Legacy for the Future


Richard Noble ’68

Legacy is something Dr. Richard Noble ’68 thinks about. As any researcher knows, each new patent is helping to build upon tomorrow’s success. Currently, he teaches chemical engineering at the University of Colorado, where he was named Inventor of the Year in 2008 for his vast body of work, including over 83 patents. Each endeavor he pursues is benefitting future generations, whether through teaching, research or community service. In 2017, Noble returned to Stevens for the Distinguished Alumni Award and not surprisingly, he also agreed to give a talk to current students. “It was a nice surprise and a great honor,” he recently said about receiving the award.

Noble is an apt name for the professor. In all of his work, he insists that the end result should add value. “I’d like people to think that the work I’ve done in my career has translated to something of value or use,” he said. When asked what accomplishment he is most proud of, his first response is “community service.” Throughout his life, he has looked for ways to contribute.

For many years, Noble worked with the non-profit Voices for Children, a group that helps juveniles who suffer from abuse and neglect. He said the group needed an engineer to sort through the problems and find solutions. “I felt it was important because these are the people that really need help. You can help the people who fall through the cracks sometimes. If you can help people then you are providing some value to the community,” he said.

Noble currently gives his time to the Davis Phinney Foundation, which is dedicated to helping people with Parkinson’s live a better life. Helping the community is a value he shares with his wife, Susan, who describes Richard as dedicated: “He is really driven to give back to his profession. People helped him when he was young and couldn’t afford it. He really wants to help young professionals,” she said.

Recently, they set up the Richard Noble and Susan Richardson Scholarship at Stevens to help future students. Noble grew up in Sayreville, New Jersey and is the oldest of seven children. His parents didn’t have the means to send him to Stevens, so he knew the only way to get there was through scholarships and loans. “There were a lot of people in New Jersey that I never met who were willing to put up money so I could get an education,” he said. “I feel that once you benefit from society you really should give back. It is almost an obligation. One way is to create a scholarship that future students will benefit from in the same way that I did.”

He has fond memories of Stevens, even when the work was difficult. “I can remember going to labs in the afternoon and coming back out and it would be dark. And so you learned – this is going to take hard work,” he said. While it was demanding, he more than managed. When he and his classmates were preparing for exams, the student with the best grasp of the material would informally teach the group. Noble wound up leading many study sessions and found that he liked it.

A few years after graduation, he found a job teaching high school science in England. The experience motivated him to get a PhD, so he could teach at the university level. Once he finished his doctorate at the University of California, his first academic post was at the University of Wyoming. After that, he took a position at the National Bureau of Standards. “Wyoming is about as far away to New Jersey culturally as the earth and the moon are. I learned a lot of things about teaching, but I realized I also wanted to get involved in research, because I started to understand the synergy between the two of them. If you do research, it really forces you to apply your knowledge and learn things,” he said.

His interest brought him to the University of Colorado, where he currently teaches. “I’ve been fortunate to work with some really great faculty and students that have enabled me to be productive. Part of that productivity is having all those patents,” he said. Yet, he stresses that not everything you do will be a success. “People are going to fail. If they learn from that and are better the next time then there is value in that. I’ve definitely failed a few times. That is part of the experience. It is not just success after success,” he says.

Noble works in collaboration with the National Science Foundation as founder and director of Membrane Applied Science and Technology (MAST), where he works with sponsors to develop relevant projects. To date, MAST has completed over 100 projects that have directly benefitted different industries. In fact, anything they work on has a practical application, but also has an educational mission as well, he says. “You have to be able to publish papers on it. You have to be able to give talks. One of the most important outputs is that the graduate students are trained and working on industrially relevant projects,” he said.

When asked what he’d like his legacy to be, Noble is at once thoughtful and practical. His natural inclination is to think like an engineer and solve problems, but at his heart, his greatest motivation may be to help people: “I do a lot of work now on carbon dioxide removal and climate change. I think it is an important issue,” he said. “If people look back 10 or 20 years from now and the work that we did contributed to minimizing that – that would be great.”

Perspective can be gained from a variety of sources. Noble is an avid cyclist. One route he takes leads him to a town in the mountains that has a bakery he likes to stop at. Inside the shop, there is a picture of a mountain with the quote, “Look back only to gain perspective.” Not only does he believe that statement, he thinks it’s worthwhile to consider: “We work day to day and it is easy to get caught up,” he said. “Every once in a while you have to take a step back and look at where you are and where you are going to.”


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