Sheldon K. Friedlander, 79; developed a way to find sources of smog particles

Times Staff Writer

Sheldon K. Friedlander, a pioneering researcher who developed a method to identify the sources of particles in smog in the Los Angeles Basin, a breakthrough that led to greater understanding and regulation of air pollution, has died. He was 79.

Friedlander, who was a UCLA chemical engineering professor, died of complications from pulmonary fibrosis Feb. 9 at his Pacific Palisades home, his family said.

While at Caltech in the 1970s, he devised a way to analyze existing data that measured the chemical makeup of smog particles. By doing so, he was able to unravel who -- or what -- was contributing to air pollution at any given time.

“He developed a picture of what was in the smog that was far more detailed than anyone had put together before,” Rick Flagan, chairman of Caltech’s chemical engineering department, told The Times this week.


For instance, Friedlander was able to link lead particles to gasoline usage and zinc traces to the rubber in tires.

The method he established has been used extensively to regulate air quality around the world, and a more sophisticated version is still used today, Flagan said.

Friedlander was considered one of the fathers of aerosol science, the study of particles in the air and gases, and helped establish it as an independent discipline, colleagues said.

“Sheldon was always one with deep insights and a quick grasp of interesting phenomena,” Flagan said. “He had a profound effect on the field.”


After joining UCLA in 1983, Friedlander founded the school’s Air Quality and Aerosol Technology Laboratory and became its director. In the mid-1980s, the lab’s pollution detectives were searching for easier and cheaper ways to trap smokestack emissions. “We must find ways to control toxic wastes before they are produced rather than ways of disposing them afterward,” Friedlander told the teen magazine Scholastic Update in 1985.

In 1987 at UCLA, he established the nation’s first engineering research center devoted entirely to solving the problem of hazardous waste management and served as its director for several years.

Later in his career, Friedlander turned his attention toward synthesizing new materials by using aerosol chemical processes. His experiments with nanoparticles helped further understanding of how the microminiature units could form chains with elastic properties. Nanoscale materials could help make an unforgiving material such as ceramic stronger and easier to manufacture, Flagan said.

From 1982 to 1998, Friedlander headed the Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee, which provides independent advice to the Environmental Protection Agency.


In 1982, he helped found the American Assn. for Aerosol Research, which established the Friedlander Award in 1997. It recognizes an outstanding dissertation by a doctoral student in the field of aerosol studies.

Sheldon Kay Friedlander was born Nov. 17, 1927, in New York City, the only child of Irving Friedlander, a paper box manufacturer, and his milliner wife, Rose. His middle name stood for his mother’s original last name, Katzowitz.

He interrupted his studies at Columbia University to serve in the Army just after World War II but returned to earn a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering. He followed it with a master’s from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1951.

At the Harvard School of Public Health, Friedlander was captivated by the study of aerosols while working on an Atomic Energy Commission project about the control of radioactive aerosols. He earned his doctorate at the University of Illinois in 1954 and became a professor at Johns Hopkins University.


A decade later, he arrived at Caltech and conducted air pollution experiments using huge Teflon balloons launched from a rooftop lab.

On a blind date arranged by relatives, Friedlander met his wife, Marjorie Robbins, and married her eight weeks later, in 1958.

A Fulbright scholar and Guggenheim fellow, he delighted in fishing in the Angeles National Forest and watching the television show “Get Smart.”

His children remembered their father as a great dancer who refused to go to Disneyland, which he viewed as a vacation destination -- and he vacationed only in places he was invited to lecture. They said he watched television at dinner only once, during the Lakers’ NBA-record 33-game winning streak in the 1971-72 season.


In addition to his wife, he is survived by four children, Eva, Zoe and Josiah Friedlander and Amelie Yehros; and eight grandchildren.