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V. N. Mallikarjuna (Malli) Rao

by Susan J. Ainsworth
April 6, 2015 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 93, Issue 14

V. N. Mallikarjuna (Malli) Rao, 77, a DuPont Fellow and Distinguished Scientist, died in Wilmington, Del., on Dec. 2, 2014.

Born in the state of Tamil Nadu in India, Rao received a bachelor’s degree in 1957 and a master’s degree in 1959, both in chemistry from Pachaiyappa’s College in Chennai, India.

Arriving in the U.S. on a Fulbright scholarship, he obtained a Ph.D. in organic chemistry at the University of Idaho. After completing postdoctoral work at the University of Chicago, Rao managed an Ovaltine malted milk plant in India.

He later returned to the U.S. as a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, before joining DuPont at its Experimental Station in Wilmington in 1973.

Early in his DuPont career, Rao researched tetrahydrofuran and identified improved methods for its use in the manufacture of Lycra spandex. He also invented a safer process to make methyl isocyanate, which is used in the production of pesticides.

Later, he became a prolific inventor in catalysis and organofluorine chemistry, making major contributions in the area of chlorofluorocarbon alternatives. He is credited with nearly 200 U.S. patents.

Rao was named a DuPont Fellow and Distinguished Scientist, and he received the company’s Lavoisier Medal in 1999 and the Stephanie Kwolek Inventor Award in 2014.

A champion of diversity, Rao mentored young scientists from all backgrounds and was a valued adviser to science and business leaders alike.

Rao was an emeritus member of ACS, joining in 1963.

He and his wife, Vera Lee, were involved in bird rescue and research and maintained an aviary at their home. In addition, Rao was a conservator of South American orchids and active in the Delaware Orchid Society.

Survivors include his wife, to whom he was married for 44 years.

Obituary notices of no more than 300 words may be sent to Susan J. Ainsworth at and should include an educational and professional history.


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