Faculty remembers renowned professor
Michael Economides, petroleum engineering adjunct professor in the Cullen College of Engineering, died Saturday of a heart attack while on a flight from Madrid to Chile.
Economides, 64, was renowned worldwide as a leader in petroleum engineering. He was known for his friendly, social approach to the issues of hydraulic fracturing and energy geopolitics.
“He’s an expert on energy; that’s the simplest way to describe Michael. He’s a very scholarly, fundamental technically oriented engineering professor who was able to translate things from the research side to the commercialism side,” said Michael Harold, chair and M.D. Anderson Professor of Chemical and Biomedical Engineering.
“He was able to bridge the divide very effectively, which is a kind of gift that’s hard to do. (He was) very practically minded, business minded, but he understood the technology at a fundamental level.”
Originally a professor at Texas A&M University, Economides came to UH in 1999 as a professor in the Department of Chemical and Biomedical Engineering. As his international acclaim grew, he became an adjunct professor in 2005 to focus on traveling and writing, teaching one master’s course per semester and advising petroleum engineering students with their projects.
“(He brought) practical knowledge into (the) classroom, which students really appreciated,” Harold said.
“He also had a way of breaking down the barriers between professor and student and was a very effective teacher and an enthusiastic teacher. He always brought humor into the situation, and I think that helped him connect with the students very well — and also the professors.”
He published a number of journals and books through the years, the most popular of which was “The Color of Oil: The History, the Money and the Politics of the World’s Biggest Business.” The book, which Economides wrote with authors Ronald Oligney and Armando Izquierdo, examines the oil industry through the lenses of money, technology and people. It was well-received by not only local academics, but also readers on websites such as Amazon and Goodreads.
“(Economides) was very knowledgeable and did excellent research in the area of production, which is part of petroleum engineering. This includes the techniques of hydraulic fracturing, which are very much in the news now,” said petroleum engineering professor and director Thomas Holley.
“Another reason he was very much in demand was because he was very outspoken in how to best do these procedures and also the importance of energy to the U.S. in the world.”
According to Harold, Economides was known for his controversial opinions, such as his belief that expending energy, rather than conserving it, is beneficial to the United States’ gross domestic product.
“What perhaps set Michael apart was the fact that he was decisive in making judgments about scientific issues and that he did not mind sharing his opinions, so he was very forthright,” said Chief Energy Officer Ramanan Krishnamoorti.
“He knew exactly where he was coming from, and he would lay out his opinion and sort of challenge you to challenge his opinion … and try and find holes in what he was saying.”
According to the Houston Chronicle, Economides is survived by his wife, Christine, 64, and his sons, John, 42, and Alexander, 35.
“When he was in a faculty meeting, he would always be very open and instigate discussion, which was very refreshing. No one held back, and I think that’s important to have a true democracy, and I think people respected him for that, but he did it in a kind and respectful way,” Harold said.
“I think also his humor, his outgoing personality, broke down barriers, and I think that really provided an injection of energy into the faculty. We’re going to miss him terribly.”