Civil and environmental engineering professor granted emeritus status

Tim Schley
September 25, 2020

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Fred Cannon, recently retired professor of civil and environmental engineering, was granted emeritus status in recognition of his distinguished career at Penn State.

“On behalf of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Penn State, I want to thank Fred for 27 years of outstanding contributions to the University and our environmental engineering program,” said Patrick Fox, John A. and Harriette K. Shaw Professor of Civil Engineering and head of the department.

Cannon grew up with a deep respect for the environment, cultivated by backpacking trips through the Sierra Nevada mountains and his time in the Boy Scouts of America. 

Prior to his arrival at Penn State in 1993, he served for 10 years as a project engineer designing water and wastewater treatment facilities in California and Colorado.

“This included the Los Angeles water treatment plant, which serves potable water to 3 million people,” Cannon said.

As a faculty member, Cannon’s research focused on the physical-chemical treatment of water, wastewater and air, devising new ways to tailor activated carbons to better remove undesirable chemicals from potable water. 

Cannon also created novel sustainable techniques for cast iron foundries that significantly reduced pollution and material waste.

“I liked to ask manufacturers the question, ‘What are you throwing away?’” Cannon said. “Then I would ask them, ‘How would you like to save money by not throwing it away?’ These questions captured their attention and spawned fun research collaborations.”

picture of a large family of all different ages smiling in front of wooded area

Professor Emeritus Fred Cannon, fifth from left, is excited to spend more time with his family, especially his grandchildren.

IMAGE: Image provided

Cannon never shied away from opportunities to collaborate, especially with manufacturers. During his 26 consecutive years of funding by the National Science Foundation, 12 grants were awarded specifically to generate industry collaboration.

Fifteen of his former doctoral students and postdoctoral researchers are now in industry leadership positions, and another 14 have become faculty at various universities.

“It always brought me great satisfaction when I saw the proud gait of these students after they made their research presentations to industry vice presidents,” Cannon said. “The students realized, ‘Oh, wow, we really did some things that could profoundly help this company.’”

Cannon was conscious of the impact he could have on students. For 25 years, he served as the faculty principal investigator for Penn State’s Sloan Scholarship program, which provides scholarships for underrepresented students to pursue doctoral degrees in science, engineering and mathematics.

According to Cannon, the program has provided scholarships to 180 Black, Hispanic and Native American students, and more than 90% of the participants in the program graduated with a doctoral degree.

“This Penn State investment is making an exponential impact on the nation’s cultural climate,” Cannon said. “These Sloan Scholars impact the next generations wherever they go.”

Now retired, Cannon plans to continue living in State College with his wife of 40 years, Liz. In his free time, he is writing a book about Christianity, science and sustainability.

The pair are also enjoying time with their friends and family, especially their six grandchildren.

“Liz just received her sixth ‘Grammy Award,’” Cannon said. “They call me, ‘Nobel.’ We both enjoy getting these awards.”


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Last Updated September 25, 2020