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SCU Engineering News

Engineering Loses Two Pioneers

Engineering lost two pioneers last year: Richard (Dick) Pefley, a member of our School of Engineering faculty for 35 years and a visionary in the research of alcohol-based fuels, and Frank S. Greene Jr., Ph.D. ’70, a leader in Silicon Valley technology. Though no longer with us, their impact will be felt on generations to come.

Professor Richard (Dick) Pefley

Richard (Dick) Pefley. Photo: Santa Clara University Archives

Dick Pefley joined the faculty of the School of Engineering in 1951 as chair of the mechanical engineering department and immediately became a favorite among students and colleagues, alike. His keen interest in solar energy, artificial lung development, heat transfer, and gas dynamics of the Polaris missile led to numerous scholarly publications, but it was his exploration of alternative fuels in the early 1970s that made him a leading authority in the field, both in the United States and around the world.

Pefley was passionate about finding alternatives for reducing dependence on oil imports, and was a proponent of alcohol-based fuel “not just because it is clean burning, but because it can be produced by every country, even underdeveloped countries, since it can be developed from so many sources” such as sugar cane, natural gas, and coal, he said.

From 1969 to 1980, Pefley received millions of dollars in funding from the U.S. Post Office and the California Energy Commission for alcohol car test programs, converting fleets of vehicles to use alcohol fuels. In 1980 he founded the Methanol Research Center where he led and inspired a loyal following of “alcoholics” who were as committed to alternative fuels as he, even as funding dissipated in the wake of falling oil prices. Pefley’s words, spoken in 1982, ring prophetic today: “We are making a terrible mistake by directing so many dollars into destructive weaponry when they could be going into constructive weaponry—like energy.”

Over the years, Pefley was named ASME Fellow, testified before Congressional subcommittees, and was one of three recipients of the first SCU President’s Special Recognition Award, recognizing superior teaching, publication, and special service to the University and the community. Upon his retirement from SCU, one of his students, David Oliver BSME ’61, wrote: He was a man of “brilliance and exciting energy. [He] blessed a generation of engineers in a time of both exhilarating and desperate technical advances. [He was] a technical man par excellance. But the technical did not detract or blind him to the wider issues of moral seriousness.”

Paul S. Russell, BSME ’78, who studied under Prof. Pefley at SCU and worked with him later at Pefley’s company, Alcohol Energy Systems, remembers his friend this way: “Professor Pefley was an outstanding academic, a visionary, a pioneering researcher, and a philosopher. He could engineer superbly, but in the end his greatest gift to future generations was not the courses he taught, the discoveries he made, or the systems he engineered, but his moral compass. Its cardinal points were knowledge, modesty, justice, and hard work. He was an example to all of us.”

Frank S. Greene

Frank S. Greene. Photo: Santa Clara University Archives

Frank S. Greene, Ph.D. electrical engineering ’70, passed away unexpectedly last December. He was 71.

Considered one of the pioneers of semiconductor technology, Greene also broke new ground for African-American engineers as he helped break the color barrier in Silicon Valley in the 1960s. While working at Fairchild Semiconductor’s Research and Development Labs, he developed and held the patent for the integrated circuit that made Fairchild a leader in the semiconductor industry.

Greene went on to create two software firms before founding NewVista Capital in 1986, through which he launched numerous start-up companies, with a particular focus on women and minority entrepreneurs.

Last year, Greene was featured in an exhibit at Palo Alto City Hall as one of the 50 most important African-Americans in technology. He told the Palo Alto Times, “Success in life is not about ‘me,’ but about what you can do to help others.” He put this philosophy into practice over the course of his life, launching the GO-Positive Foundation and his VRE (Vision, Relationships and Execution) Leadership Model, through which he mentored and served as an inspiration to high school students and young business professionals. He also served as a Trustee and adjunct lecturer at SCU. For his many contributions to engineering and society, Greene was awarded the School of Engineering’s highest honor, the Distinguished Engineering Alumnus Award, and was inducted into the Silicon Valley Engineering Hall of Fame by the Silicon Valley Engineering Council in 1991.

Dedicated to fostering excellence through leadership training and education, Greene helped countless individuals realize their dreams by lending his time, his knowledge, and his support. SCU alumnus Bob Ulicki, MSEE ’72 writes: “Dr. Greene showed a genuine interest in all of us who attended his classes. Independent of his awards and accomplishments, Frank was a human being who cared about others.”