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Dr. Viskanta was born in Marijampole, Lithuania. His family fled Lithuania in 1944 during World War II and settled near the city of Nienburg in Germany. Following the war, his family moved to a displaced persons camp in West Germany. They emigrated to the United States in 1949.
Viskanta eventually moved to Chicago, where he worked in a factory and attended evening high school. He received his diploma in 1951, and enrolled as a full-time student at the University of Illinois at Navy Pier. He received his bachelor's degree in 1955 and his completed his master's degree at Purdue University in 1956.
He worked as a mechanical engineer at Argonne National Laboratory and received a U.S. Atomic Energy Commission fellowship. Following this, he returned to Purdue to complete his PhD. He joined the Purdue faculty as a professor in mechanical engineering in 1962. He was named W.F.M. Goss Distinguished Professor of Engineering in 1986.
Dr. Viskanta has published in 50 different journals in the U.S., Europe, and Japan. Viskanta has been listed as an ISI Highly Cited Author in Engineering by the ISI Web of Knowledge, Thomson Scientific Company.