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David Jenkins
In Memoriam

David Jenkins

Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Emeritus

UC Berkeley

David Jenkins, an eminent expert on water and wastewater treatment passed away on March 6, 2021, at the age of 85 after a short illness. He is survived by his wife Joan, son Daniel, daughter Sarah Muren, six grandchildren, and three great grandchildren.

David Jenkins graduated in 1957 with a B.Sc. degree in Applied Biochemistry from Birmingham University, UK. In 1960, he received a Ph.D. in Public Health (Sanitary) Engineering from Kings College, University of Durham, UK. He came to Berkeley in the same year as a post-doctoral researcher to work with another pioneer of environmental and sanitary engineering, Professor P.H. McGauhey. He joined the Berkeley faculty in 1963 as an Assistant Professor. He rose through the ranks, becoming a full Professor in 1975 and Lawrence Peirano Chair in Civil and Environmental Engineering (CEE) in 1994. He served CEE as Chair of the Division of Environmental Engineering and Vice Chair of the Department. He also served as Director of the Environmental Engineering and Health Sciences Research Laboratory. His Berkeley service culminated in the award of a Berkeley Citation on his retirement in 1999.

During his many years at Berkeley, David taught and mentored students and post-doctoral researchers from all over the world. He supervised over 50 Ph.D. students and numerous post-docs and visiting scholars, many of whom became leaders in environmental science and engineering. He published over 250 refereed papers including a final one in 2020. His groundbreaking research into the microbiology of the activated sludge process for treating wastewater led to the development of a model and decision tree-based expert system that helps engineers design and manage the process in a manner that reduces the risks of system failures. His work improved both the cost effectiveness and operability of the activated sludge process, which has increased access to wastewater treatment to megacities of the developing world.

For his work, he was recognized worldwide with numerous awards and prizes. Among the most prestigious was his election to the National Academy of Engineering in 2001. He was also Fellow of the Chartered Institution of Water Environment and Management (UK) and was conferred Honorary Life Memberships by CWEA, WEF and the International Water Association. One example of David’s sustained recognition was receiving three Water Environment Federation Harrison Prescott Eddy Medals for Research (1974, 1985, 1988) – a feat unique in the history of the award.

David had a gift for translating knowledge from academic research to students and practitioners. He was renowned for his numerous training sessions that brought the latest findings on water chemistry and wastewater microbiology to treatment plant operators, laboratory technicians, and practicing engineers. He was strongly committed to classroom teaching as evidenced by the way he responded to a back injury in the mid-1990s. Despite the challenge of being unable to stand or sit for extended periods, he continued to lecture and ask insightful questions at a 90 ninety-degree angle to everyone else in the room.

David Jenkins’ dedication to students included his famous spaghetti parties where he and his wife, Joan, would open their home until it was overflowing with graduate students, faculty and their guests. David and Joan extended warm hospitality to new and continuing members of the Berkeley campus community, often serving as substitute parents for young scholars who were living far from home. His personal commitments and professional achievements earned David the friendly nickname “FlocDoc” (including a customized license plate given by his family) – “floc” being a short for “flocculation” – the phenomenon that explains the ways that microbes come together to create a community with unique functions – a process that was critical to David’s research and an apt metaphor for his role in the Berkeley community.

Slav Hermanowicz
David Sedlak