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Joe W. Hightower

by Susan J. Ainsworth
January 19, 2015 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 93, Issue 3

Photo of Joe  W. Hightower.

Joe W. Hightower, 77, a professor emeritus of chemical and biomolecular engineering at Rice University, died on July 25, 2014, in Houston.

Born in Morrilton, Ark., Hightower earned a B.S. in chemistry, math, and physics in 1959 at Harding College in Searcy, Ark., before earning a Ph.D. in physical chemistry in 1963 from Johns Hopkins University under Paul H. Emmett.

He then completed postdoctoral fellowships at Queen’s University Belfast in Northern Ireland and Mellon Institute (now Carnegie Mellon University) in Pittsburgh.

In 1967, he joined the department of chemical engineering at Rice University, where he would remain for 34 years and become an expert in heterogeneous catalysis.

At Rice, he also held many administrative roles, including chair of the Tenure & Ethics Committee and director of sponsored research.

He consulted for catalysis and oil processing companies and testified before the House of Representatives Committee on Science & Technology as it drafted legislation requiring catalytic converters in cars.

Hightower was an emeritus member of ACS, joining in 1965. He chaired the ACS Petroleum Research Fund for five years, was active in the Houston section, and served as a councilor. He received ACS’s George A. Olah Award in Hydrocarbon or Petroleum Chemistry in 1973 and was named an ACS Fellow in 2011.

He cofounded Hospitality Apartments, which provides free temporary housing for families in need who are receiving treatment at the Texas Medical Center. He was also well-known for distributing his freshly baked sourdough bread to friends and new Hospitality Apartments residents.

Hightower is survived by his wife, Ann, and his daughter, Amy.

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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