• Jan van Langen – an Appreciation

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IFRF Pioneer Jan van Langen has died aged 86.  Jan was amongst the very first Investigators to work at the new IFRF test furnace in the 1950’s, on secondment from the then Royal Dutch Blast Furnace and Steel Works (Hoogovens IJmuiden, now Tata Steel).  His early work was in the areas of thermal radiation from oil flames, as well as combustion of oil with oxygen.  Examples of his reports may be found by searching the IFRF Archive with Langen as author.

Following from his secondment to the IFRF, Jan continued his career within the Hoogovens Research Laboratories retiring in 1986 as Head of Process Technology Department and Deputy Head of the Laboratory, a career which was particularly successful in the field of International Cooperation.  Herewith an account of his achievements, contributed by three former colleagues.

Dr. Frank Fitzgerald, former Managing Director (Technical), British Steel, and long-time British Flame President knew Jan when they both worked in the steel industry.  Frank comments:

“In 1960 the research departments of United Steel Companies and Hoogovens had a close informal relationship which had grown out of the personal friendships of the principals who had created or worked at the IFRF.  Jan was a regular visitor to Swinden Laboratories and became aware of the extensive programme of mathematical modelling that had been undertaken there, supported by measurements on production plant using bespoke instruments based on work at IJmuiden.  Quick to realise the potential of the technique for improving plant performance, he was instrumental in setting up an informal group where new ideas could be disseminated and results discussed.  Out of that came two conferences on the subject, one in London in 1969 and one in Amsterdam in 1974. Jan was chairman of the organising party for both events.  He was an ideal choice being multilingual and with the many contacts his time at IFRF had provided”

In 1977 Jan was invited to join the IFRF Board of Directors General Secretary during a period when the IFRF was reorganising its research planning and funding procedures.  The Joint Committee had taken the decision in mid 1975 to close the IFRF at the end of 1976 due to lack of financing resources.  However the staff had shown its capability to raise sufficient funds via successful contract research work, which led to the appointment of a Director of the Research Station and the drawing up of new operating procedures for the future.  That first director was Dr. Sigfrid Michefelder, now Member of  the advisory board of Steinmüller Engineering GmbH. 

“With Jan van Langen as General Secretary, the IFRF gained a personality whose contributions and actions were entirely supported by his natural authority.  Liberal in mind, he was always ready to help when asked but never enforced decisions, not in the daily work at the Research Station nor in his role as General Secretary in the Joint Committee.  Jan was a team player par excellence and a clear delegation of responsibilities was his leadership style.  In this manner he influenced the development of the relevant responsibilities of the President, General Secretary and the Superintendent of Research and encouraged the rigorous efforts to define core research programmes which would produce research information with value as wide a range as possible of IFRF Members.  Then, like the wise owner of a shipping company, Jan supported the crew on shore but let the captain sail the ship once it had left the harbour.  This overall approach allowed the Research Station to broaden considerably the international co-funding of these core research programmes with successes such as the IEA Coal Combustion Sciences and the scaling 400 programmes.  On his retirement from the IFRF he bequeathed a solid basis for the successful programmes of the 1990’s and beyond.

Jan van Langen was a friend, always present when needed but never standing in the way to hold up developments initiated by others; he performed an ideal form of management, motivation rather than control but decisive when required.

With his extraordinary cordiality and hospitality – the unforgotten, splendid invitations by Mr. and Mrs. van Langen to their island home whenever the Joint Committee met in the Netherlands were a splendid contribution to the family life of the organisation – Jan managed to revive the spirit of the old days within the Joint Committee and to reanimate the acceptance of responsibility by the National Committees for the continuous development of the IFRF.  To a large extent, the flourishing of IFRF in the decade from 1980 to 1990 is to be credited to Jan van Langen!”

Peter Roberts, former IFRF Director, worked alongside Jan van Langen at the IFRF for many years, and adds; “Jan was a man of strong principles and deeply aware of the needs of others.  After his retirement from Hoogovens he worked to relieve the sufferings of those in Eastern Europe and his efforts were much appreciated, as witnessed by the award of the Knights Cross of the Order of the Republic of Poland and the freedom of the town of Trzcinsko-Zdrol.  He was also a Knight of the Order of Orange Nassau and a Fellow of the UK’s Institute of Materials, Minerals and Mining”.

IFRF wishes to recognize a deep sense of gratitude for the role played by Jan van Langen in furthering its activities over many decades.