OSU expert in thermal engineering dies


Richard Peterson

Richard Peterson, a professor of mechanical engineering at Oregon State University and prominent national expert in heat transfer, thermodynamics and combustion, died Friday, Feb. 24, following a long illness.

Peterson, who was also associate director of the Microproducts Breakthrough Institute and director of the Advanced Tactical Energy Systems Program, was a leading researcher in miniature and microscale energy systems.

“Rich was a prolific inventor whose research will have a profound impact on lives well into the future,” said Brian Wall, director of the OSU Office for Commercialization and Corporate Development. “He submitted 21 invention disclosures in the past 15 years, the most recent just last Tuesday. Rich really believed in the potential impact his discoveries could have on millions of lives.”

Peterson received his doctorate from the University of California at Berkeley in 1984 and came to OSU in 1985, where he spent 27 years developing one of the nation’s leading programs in thermal engineering. Peterson had more than 80 papers in professional journals and conference proceedings, a number of patents and inventions, and his work was supported by significant grants from the National Science Foundation, U.S. Department of Energy and Department of Defense.

Peterson’s research focused on energy storage systems, new types of more efficient heat pumps, and use of low-grade thermal sources.

Just in recent years, Peterson developed a “heat-actuated cooling system” that uses microchannel technology and has great promise to use waste heat from automobiles or factories, and produce either air conditioning or electricity. Technology of this type may one day help save energy in homes, automobiles and industry around the world.

Other recent inventions included a “water pasteurizer” now being commercially developed, and a start-up company founded by Peterson that will address major challenges in grid-level energy storage. One of his inventions is being used by patients on dialysis by providing a pure water source.

“Rich was fiercely independent but passionate about his research making a positive impact,” said Brian Paul, an OSU professor of industrial and manufacturing engineering, and director of the Microproducts Breakthrough Institute. “He also cared deeply about teaching and leaves behind a legacy of engineers who will continue making impact. He will be sorely missed.”

~ David Stauth

2 Responses to “OSU expert in thermal engineering dies”

  1. Laurie Holst - College of Forestry says:

    Reading about Dr. Peterson’s passing saddens me deeply. I knew him years ago from the Valley Restaurant… my heart goes out to his family.

  2. Tom Plant, School of EECS says:

    Rich was an admired colleague who was a major contributor to the MECS program which later became ONAMI. He will be greatly missed.