Professor emeritus James Hunt remembered for environmental engineering contributions

Related Posts

UC Berkeley civil and environmental engineering professor emeritus James Hunt died last month after a brief illness at the age of 66. Colleagues remember him for his selflessness and dedication to his field.

Hunt joined the UC Berkeley faculty in 1980, and his studies dealt primarily with organic contaminant transfer in groundwater, estuaries and surface and subsurface soils, according to a statement released by the campus CEE department. He was best known for his development of a system for injecting steam as a way to remove pollutants from aquifers.

“Berkeley has a very special place in his heart,” said his daughter, Dana Hunt, in a statement to the campus.

As part of Hunt’s efforts on campus, he helped merge two programs — fluid mechanics and hydrology and environmental quality, according to CEE department chair Robert Harley. Hunt was interested in contaminants such as trace metals, radionuclides and pathogenic organisms.

“(Hunt) was very involved in leading the Berkeley Water Center and thinking about the quality and quantity of water, used both for agriculture and in cities,” Harley said.

In addition to his teaching and research, Hunt held several active campus leadership roles. Hunt served as a member of the Budget Committee and Divisional Council, was the associate vice provost for Academic Planning and Facilities and directed both the Berkeley Water Center and the Institute for Environmental Science and Engineering, according to the statement. Even after retirement, Hunt continued working as a program evaluator for the Engineering Accreditation Board, where he toured campuses and visited faculty from other programs.

CEE professor William Nazaroff, long-time colleague of Hunt, recalled his remarkable generosity. Nazaroff said in an email that Hunt was a no-nonsense teacher who was clear about his job and priorities.

Upon Hunt’s retirement in 2013, he gave a seminar to a standing room-only crowd. His graduate students wore customized shirts with either a black and white photo of Hunt or one of his famous sayings, including “Keep it simple,” “You already know the answer” and “Story time.”

Harley emphasized that Hunt always put others first, making sure his colleagues and students had the assignments best suited to them before picking up the rest of the work.

“Jim was my faculty mentor and role model,” said David Sedlak, the Berkeley Water Center’s co-director in an email. “He taught me the importance of being a critical thinker, especially when it seems like the accepted approach to solving a problem doesn’t seem to be working. Leading by example, he also showed us the importance of selflessness and putting the interest of students first. We miss him.”

Harley said the CEE department intends to have a memorial service for Hunt in April for faculty and former students.

Contact Ani Vahradyan at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @anivahrad.