Roger William Herbert Sargent: 1973—1974

Roger Sargent was born in 1926 and having gained a number of scholarships from Bedford School, joined the Chemical Technology Department at Imperial College as a student in 1944. At that time the chemical engineering course was a select affair and there were only 14 students in his year.

After graduation he took up research on the fractionation performance of advanced column packings when used for the distillation of liquid air. He inherited a laboratory air liquefier built by J L Chien, in collaboration with J&E Hall Ltd; and then proceeded to design a column to match up with it and have the flexibility necessary to operate at different throughputs, reflux ratios and pressures, and also designed and built a number of measuring and control instruments. He was frustrated by the complexity of the apparatus and the unreliability of the ex-submarine air compressor on which it relied. However he found time to analyse the problem and to apply his mathematical insights to the generation of significant points of theory upon which his PhD thesis was successfully based.

He then joined the Société L’Air Liquide in Paris, becoming the first UK chemical engineer to join that company. He was involved in process design in which he observed the potential of the new electronic digital computers, and he subsequently spearheaded a pioneering programme of computer use for plant design which was probably the most successful in Europe.

In 1958 Roger Sargent returned to Imperial College to fill the role of Senior Lecturer in the Department of Chemical Engineering, a role previously filled by Jack Richardson. During this time he further developed his expertise in computer control and design and quickly gained an international reputation. In 1962 he was promoted to a Chair of Chemical Engineering, and in 1966 to the Courtaulds Chair of Chemical Engineering, taking charge of chemical engineering teaching and research.

In 1964 he was invited to join the DSIR Process Control Research Panel and he also served on the Control Engineering Committee of the SRC from its inception. In 1967 he joined the Chemical Engineering & Technology Committee and on becoming its chairman for two years (1971-1973) he served ex-officio on SRC's Engineering Board.

In addition to teaching and research he was also prominent in other activities at Imperial College. He was a long-standing member of their Computer Committee, which was instrumental in Imperial College becoming equipped with some of the best computing facilities in Europe. He was also a member of the Interdisciplinary Studies Committee and this led to him becoming involved in the introduction of undergraduate teaching in economics, sociology and other associated studies to students of science and engineering.

He was elected to the Governing Body of Imperial College in 1967 and then, in 1973, he became Dean of the City & Guilds College, the engineering part of Imperial College. 

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