Engineering community reflects on chemist’s ‘unparalleled’ contributions

Herbert Ellis Allen, professor emeritus in the University of Delaware’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering (CEE), passed away on June 29, 2021.

During his decades-long career, Dr. Allen published over 150 papers, helped edit six books related to the chemistry and contamination of soil and waterways and mentored dozens of students. He offered his professional expertise to many industries as a consultant, including American and foreign governments and the World Health Organization.

“In an era before formal faculty mentoring programs existed, Herb took it upon himself to take junior faculty under his wing and ensure they were doing the things needed to be promoted,” recalled Michael Chajes, CEE professor and dean of the Honors College. “I still remember our Monday morning check-ins, where Herb would come to my office just to check in on me. I am really grateful to him for caring so much, and I know many others in the department are as well.”

Dr. Allen was highly regarded as an expert on the effects of metals in the environment and conducted groundbreaking research on the outcomes and effects of pollutants in water, sediment and soil. His expertise helped lead to environmental standards that are still in use today. He retired from UD in 2008, after 19 years on the faculty, where he also served with a joint appointment in the College of Earth, Ocean and Environment.

His research interests also included the bioavailability of trace materials and assessing ecological risks. In his free time, he also loved travel photography—capturing more than 120,000 photographs from his travels to over 100 countries for work and pleasure.

Dr. Allen received his undergraduate and doctoral degrees in chemistry and environmental chemistry from the University of Michigan. He previously served as the director of UD’s Center for the Study of Metals in the Environment, and prior to that was the director of Drexel University’s Environmental Studies Institute. In 2013, Dr. Allen was named an American Chemical Society Fellow, recognizing his many years and accomplishments in his field.

Even in retirement, Dr. Allen remained active in research. His work with Dominic DiToro, Edward C. Davis Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at UD, aimed to understand and predict interactions between military explosives and other munitions in the environment.

“Herb’s knowledge of soil chemistry is unparalleled,” said CEE professor Pei Chiu. “I worked with him on two projects, one involving fragrances in soils and the other explosives in soils, and learned so much from him. His passing is an immeasurable loss, not only for our department, but for the environmental chemistry community.”

Dr. Allen is survived by his wife, Ronnie Allen, his children Francine (James Church) and Julie, his sister Sandra, his stepchildren Wendy Miller (Hal) and Teri Galter, and his grandchildren, Paula and Jennifer Miller. Contributions can be made in Dr. Allen’s name to the American Cancer Society.

| Photo by Kathy F. Atkinson |