In Memoriam: Dr. Ernie Mayer

The AFS extends its condolences to the family and friends of Dr. Ernie Mayer, one of AFS’s founding members and a long-term contributor. Dr. Ernie Mayer passed away on July 1, 2023.

Dr. Mayer made tremendous contributions to AFS in multiple capacities including as a founding member, member of the AFS Board of Directors with multiple terms, chair of Chapter Affairs/Users Committee since 1995 and a member of three other committees. He was an instructor in the AFS short course program since it started in the mid-1990s and served until recently. One of his significant contributions to AFS was that he presented multiple high-quality papers every year at AFS conferences. He was also the conference chair for three AFS annual/national conferences, co-chair of the World Filtration Congress in 2004 and chair of the 2008 Filter Testing Conference. With his great contributions and achievements, he was awarded the AFS Frank Tiller award in 1996, AFS Fellow award in 2000 and Lifetime Achievement award in 2005 (the first non-academic to receive it).

Dr. Mayer was a Senior Consultant with DuPont in Wilmington, DE, specializing in solid-liquid separation technology, especially in wastewater treatment, from 1980 until his retirement. He received his B.S. and M.S. chemical engineering degrees from Columbia University and his Ph.D. in chemical engineering from the University of Delaware.

In addition to AFS, Dr. Mayer was also a member of AWWA, AlChE and WEF. He had a brilliant professional career; among his numerous awards are Tau Beta Pi, Sigma Xi, three Engineering Excellence Awards and seven Environmental Respect Awards. He has over 200 publications and two patents. In 1991, a remediation technology he developed was accepted into the EPA SITE program. At the request of President Jimmy Carter, he was asked to participate in the Three-Mile Island nuclear cleanup in 1980.

Dr. Mayer has left his legacy in AFS as well as the field of fluid/particle separation and will forever be remembered and respected in AFS and in the industry.

Remembrances from His Colleagues

Wenping Li – Agrilectric Research

I have had the privilege to work with Dr. Mayer on various projects since 2005, and I considered him as a mentor and a friend, with my utmost respect. He imparted invaluable lessons to me, encompassing both professional and personal realms. His dedication to work, receptive mindset toward learning, and his relentless pursuit of precision and a better solution have always been inspiring to me. 

In the past, whenever I traveled with Dr. Mayer for work, I prepared to not see daylight the whole day as we started at 6 a.m. and ended at 9 p.m. As a prominent figure in industrial filtration, he possessed vast experience and knowledge, yet he remained open to acquire new insights – although he stuck to the same restaurant, ordering chicken salad seven days in a row, and stayed in a same hotel chain even it was 50 miles away. During tests, his patience, meticulousness and precision were always impressive to me. I recall that he employed a caliper to measure the filter cake thickness, and patiently waited for the  last drop of slurry to get into a filter before commencing a test. 

After Dr. Mayer retired, we continued to maintain our communications. He consistently responded promptly to my emails and helped with my questions. He also liked to ask if there was any new development or new products, which motivated me to work harder. I treasure our last email wherein he inquired about our new development, and I promised to send him a sample! 

I cherish the memories we shared and remain deeply grateful for the influences from Dr. Mayer. He will always be remembered!

Roy Rieber - TCN Technologies

Like Tina Turner said… “Simply the best, better than all the rest!”

Unlike Tina, our Ernie was not loud about it. He was a humble guy who did his job with unmatched thoroughness. He had a job to do and just did it.

His data-driven thoroughness defined him and his place in DuPont. There were no personality issues or politics with Ernie’s work. Only data. DuPont was superbly served by this.  Twice, his thoroughness convinced the local regulatory agencies that DuPont could chemically destroy hazardous chemicals on plant rather than use mandated incineration. On another occasion he prevailed on an EPA challenge during DuPont’s Tyvek SITE demonstration project. In all cases, it was only the data and his thorough understanding that carried the day.

He loved to teach, and he loved to learn. He was drawn to new technology and would drill into it and shake it out. It did not matter if you were a large firm with a long track record or a small guy just getting started. Ernie gave everyone the same opportunity to perform. I know of three firms that got their first POs from Ernie.

I met Ernie in 1990. He was working out of DuPont’s Louviers engineering center. We discussed my chemistry and process. He listened carefully, taking detailed notes on his ever-present engineering pad. Then all went quiet. Six months later he called. Would my company be interested in participating with DuPont on an EPA SITE demonstration project? We thought about it for a half-second and accepted.

Ernie loved to travel to sites to do his testing. He would arrive at a site with more equipment than Taylor Swift. Every instrument he had was “portable” if you put it in a big enough box. The local lab would offer 10 feet of bench space and he would take 20 feet. Every instrument was critical and had to be put out, fired up and calibrated.

There wasn’t a testing budget he could not bust. Ed Williams, the owner of the Washington Redskins football team, tells the story that he gave George Allen, the coach, an unlimited budget to build him a winning team and George busted the budget in six months. Ernie’s drive to test the limits of his solutions created hundreds of samples. I recall more than one plant manager paying a visit to our bench space to discuss outside lab costs. Ernie never relented. Each sample had associated measurements and calculations. Each sample was an entry on a table. For those of you who sat in on his papers, you saw the tip of the iceberg. Those of us who worked in trenches got used to working with the five pages of 50-line, 10-column tables. When it was all said and done, someone in the room would ask if we had tested a particular scenario. The answer was invariably, “Yes, and here is the data.” The final measure of all of this is that his projects always worked. From a simple bio-sludge dewatering project to a fully instrumented, five-step chemical oxidation process, they all worked.

Things you probably don’t know about Ernie: He was a minor league catcher, and he was an avid Yankees fan.

Steve Rose – Oberlin Filter 

First, my condolences to the good Dr. Mayer’s family. I was privileged to have worked side by side with Ernie for many, many years. I had just started with Oberlin in the lab when I was slated to support Ernie and others from DuPont during their frequent visits.

My first memory was being relegated to reading filtrate levels on a test rig while sitting on the lab floor, which I understood later to be a trial to see if I was capable of working to Ernie’s satisfaction. Three days later I knew I was on my way with him when given a five-gallon pail to sit on, getting “up” in the world of filtration which he worked so diligently on.   

Working with Ernie from then on was a great experience. He was always willing to share technical information, to which I am forever grateful. I learned so much from him in the years to come in every facet of filtration.  Work was always paramount to Ernie and the work we did. We would start promptly at 8 a.m. on Mondays and stop only for the quick salad or grilled chicken sandwich, always on the menu.  Some nights were well past 5 p.m. if he wanted to get to a certain point in the testing. Weekends were for follow-up work from the week. He would always prove out his test “Summaries” to the point of why one technology would work and others were not as promising. He always evaluated each one equally and with so much effort.

We still talked frequently, years past his retirement: always talking about filtration opportunities and problems, still black and white with the data for those times, always dedicated to his data – and I will always be so very grateful for all the time spent with him.

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