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Two engineers named to national academy

February 9, 2012 By Renee Meiller

The National Academy of Engineering (NAE) today (Feb. 9) announced it has named two UW–Madison engineers to its 2012 class of new members.

Craig Benson, Wisconsin Distinguished Professor of Geological Engineering and Civil and Environmental Engineering, and Max Carbon, professor emeritus of engineering physics, are among 66 new members and 10 foreign associates elected to the NAE in 2012. The designation is among the highest professional distinctions accorded to an engineer, and membership honors those who have made outstanding contributions to engineering research, practice or education.

The academy cited Benson for improvements in design, construction and monitoring of earthen liners and covers for municipal hazardous and radioactive waste landfills, while it recognized Carbon for establishing engineering educational programs for nuclear reactor design and safety.

Benson joined UW–Madison in 1990 after earning his PhD in civil engineering, with a focus on geotechnical and geoenvironmental engineering, from the University of Texas at Austin. An expert in sustainable engineering, environmental containment systems and waste management, he was drawn to UW–Madison because of its legacy of environmental stewardship. In 2011, he became the first UW–Madison director for sustainability research and education. He also serves as chair of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering and of Geological Engineering in the UW–Madison College of Engineering.

As a geoenvironmental engineering researcher, Benson focuses on assessing the sustainability of geological and civil engineering systems, reusing and recycling industrial byproducts for sustainable construction applications, and designing and assessing environmental containment systems for municipal, hazardous and radioactive waste. He has conducted research in these areas with government and industry locally, nationally and internationally.

Benson is a fellow of and has received numerous awards from the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE). He is active in the ASCE Geo Institute, currently serving as its board of governors vice president; and is vice chair of the American Society for Testing and Materials executive committee.

Carbon, a veteran of World War II, earned his PhD in mechanical engineering from Purdue University in 1949. He began his professional career with the General Electric Co. at the Hanford Engineer Works, working on its plutonium-producing reactors as part of the U.S. effort in the Cold War with the Soviet Union. He was leader of the Heat Transfer Group, which was responsible for the safety analysis, operating limits and cooling technology that allowed for increased plutonium production and extended reactor lifetimes.

He also applied his heat-transfer analysis skills to the design of Intercontinental Ballistic Missile nose cones as head of the Thermodynamics Section at the Avco Manufacturing Corp. before joining the UW–Madison faculty. He was founding chair of the UW–Madison Department of Nuclear Engineering, hired in 1958 as part of a growing postwar research emphasis on designing better, more efficient nuclear power plants for generating electricity. Department chair from 1958 until his retirement in 1992, Carbon led the department in establishing the nuclear engineering bachelor’s, master’s and PhD curricula; and recruited and hired top faculty and staff, an effort that has raised the program to its current status as among the best in the nation. Carbon also oversaw construction of the university research and training reactor, which achieved initial criticality in early 1961.

Additionally, Carbon continued research in reactor safety and heat transfer, and has become nationally known for defining this growing field. He is a fellow of the American Nuclear Society and has applied his expertise in such institutions as the federal Advisory Committee on Reactor Safeguards and the utility industry Institute of Nuclear Power Operations. Carbon also is author of “Nuclear Power: Villain or Victim?” Written for nontechnical audiences, the book sets forth the benefits and risks of nuclear power.