#IAmNYAS: Joel J. Kirman
Published April 02, 2019
A lifelong New Yorker, Academy Member Joel J. Kirman (pictured here with his wife and daughter) used his curiosity and engineering know-how to sustain a long and rich career that took him around the world. And now, even in retirement, his excitement for the sciences hasn’t flagged at all. From his early studies in chemical engineering, to working with Ralph Landau, one of the 20th century’s most influential chemical engineers, to giving regular lectures on the history of science and technology as part of the Academy’s Lyceum Society, Joel’s story is an inspiration.
Hear more about his career path, and also, learn why it was so important for Joel and his wife Liora to become part of the Academy’s 1817 Heritage Society in the interview below.
What made you decide to pursue a career in the sciences?
In grade school I received a gift, a Gilbert Chemistry set. My friend and I did the test tube experiments and the physical and color changes were exciting. In Brooklyn Technical High School, I chose the chemistry course, which led to my studying chemical engineering at the City College of New York.
How did you first become involved with the New York Academy of Sciences?
I read notices about the lectures of the Engineering Section. That led to my attending those lectures, as well as other lectures on the history and philosophy of science. That, in turn, led to my joining the Lyceum Society.
What has been one of the most rewarding moments of your career?
Participating in the design and building of major petrochemical plants in several locations around the world.
"I never cease to be amazed at the discoveries and insights, throughout history, of my intellectual forebears."
What career advice would you give to a young person pursuing a STEM career?
Follow your interests, stay connected to professional organizations, and continually monitor the changing economy.
Now that you’re retired, how do you stay connected to your scientific interests?
In addition to the Lyceum Society, I am an active member of the local chapter of American Institute of Chemical Engineers, and I am active with the Metropolitan Engineering Societies Council.
What inspires you to be a lifelong learner?
In the midst of my working career, I decided to study and then teach the History of Invention, and did both for five years. I never cease to be amazed at the discoveries and insights, throughout history, of my intellectual forebears.
You and your wife have recently joined the 1817 Heritage Society. What prompted this future gift, in addition to your annual giving to the Academy?
To us, it is a heaven-sent method of supporting the upcoming and current practitioners of science and technology as they work to make the world a better place.
What’s a fun fact about you that might surprise your friends?
My wife and I keep physically active by folk dancing, strolling on the boardwalk at Long Beach, and rowing on Central Park Lake. We also try to be regular visitors to local museums.
Want to join Joel as a Member of the 1817 Heritage Society? Learn more here.