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Gilbert Gavlin

by Susan J. Ainsworth
May 18, 2015 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 93, Issue 20

Gilbert Gavlin, 94, a chemical industry entrepreneur, died on Sept. 11, 2014, of injuries sustained while vacationing in Berlin.

Born in Chicago, Gavlin earned a B.S. degree in chemical engineering with honors from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, in 1941.

After enrolling at Cornell University, Gavlin’s graduate studies were interrupted when he and his research group under William T. Miller were asked to support the Manhattan Project. He worked first at Columbia University and later at Tennessee Eastman’s Oak Ridge, Tenn., facility (now Oak Ridge National Laboratory).

After the war, Gavlin completed a Ph.D. in organic chemistry at Cornell in 1948. He then joined the Armour Research Foundation at Illinois Institute of Technology as a project leader and director of the National Registry of Rare Chemicals. In 1955, he moved to Richardson Co. in Melrose Park, Ill., as manager of chemical research.

In 1964, Gavlin founded his first company, Poly-Synthetix, which manufactured virgin methyl methacrylate via the depolymerization of acrylic scrap. Five years later, he launched Chicago-based Custom Organics, one of the first companies involved in reclamation of organic solvents by liquid-liquid extraction and continuous-process distillation. Safety-Kleen purchased the company in 1985.

From 1987 to 2003, Gavlin was the principal in Gavlin Associates, conducting research on novel methods for the dehydration of natural gas streams. During his career, Gavlin was credited with 23 patents.

Gavlin was an emeritus member of ACS, joining in 1943 and participating in the Chicago Section. He was also involved in ASTM International (formerly the American Society for Testing & Materials) and was an active member of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers.

For 50 years, he served on the board of Ada S. McKinley Community Services in Chicago and was an active member of Temple Judea Mizpah.

Gavlin’s wife of 65 years, Carolyn, died in 2012. He is survived by his daughters, Suzanne Cluff, Patricia Kay, and Nancy, and four grandchildren.

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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