An excerpt from Purdue University: Seventy Five Years of Chemical Engineering
by: W. Nicholas Delgass and Nicholas A. Peppas
Purdue University
West Lafayette, IN 47907

As we celebrate 85 years of chemical engineering at Purdue we look, as always, to the future but also back to our roots. The origins of chemical engineering education can be traced almost exclusively to the first half of the 19th Century in Germany. During that period important chemists such as Justus von Liebig, August Kekulé, August von Hoffman, Robert Bunsen and others established in three major universities--University of Heidelberg, University of Göttinggen and University of Giessen--chemical laboratories which nurtured many generations of theoretical and applied chemists.

Industrial chemistry, the forerunner of chemical engineering, originated from these laboratories and became an important field of research at many universities during the last quarter of the 19th Century. The first chemical engineering course was given at the University of Manchester in 1887 by George E. Davis in the form of twelve lectures covering various aspects of industrial chemical practice. At Purdue University, which had been established as a land-grant university in 1874, the first chemical engineering course was offered in 1902.

Chemical engineering at Purdue University started in the Chemistry Department. In 1900, the pioneering head of chemistry, Percy N. Evans, suggested that some industrial applications be incorporated into the course, "Technical Analysis." In 1902, fascinated by the first edition of G. E. Davis' Handbook of Chemical Engineering, Evans offered a course called "Industrial Organic Chemistry Lectures" to a select group of undergraduate students in chemistry. It immediately became very popular with the students, and in 1904 Evans introduced three more "chemical engineering" courses, which he shared with Edward G. Mahin.

On April 16, 1907, President Winthrop E. Stone's recommendation to the Board of Trustees was approved and a "chemical engineering curriculum" was formed within the Department of Chemistry. The first BS in chemical engineering was awarded to Benjamin M. Ferguson ( a former Purdue quarterback!) in May 1909. A second degree was awarded in 1910 and nine more in 1911.

Only four years after the introduction of the chemical engineering curriculum there were 79 undergraduate students enrolled in the chemical engineering program. Thus, in 1911 President Stone, Dean Charles Benjamin and Professor Evans sought to establish an independent school of chemical engineering.

On June 14, 1911, the Board of Trustees approved the recommendation of President Stone and Purdue's School of Chemical Engineering became a reality. Its first faculty member and head was Harry C. Peffer, former director of research at the Aluminum Company of America (Alcoa) in East St. Louis. Peffer directed the school from 1911 until 1934. Faculty members of the pre-World War II period who served for a significant time were John L. Bray, Harold L. Maxwell, Robert B. Leckie (who developed a gas engineering option), Clifton L. Lovell, Edward C. Miller and George W. Sherman, Jr. In 1930, R. Norris Shreve, a 1907 graduate of Harvard University, was hired to establish an "organic technology option."

A graduate program was established in 1916, and the first MS degree in chemical engineering was awarded in 1921 to Ernest H. Hartwig. Shreve (unit processes and industrial chemistry), Bray (metallurgy) and Lovell (unit operations) became the three main researchers of the school. The first PhD was awarded in 1935 to William N. Pritchard, Jr. A strong graduate program with more than 50 graduate students already existed in the late 1930's. At the same time the undergraduate program had become the largest in the country with 296 undergraduates in 1920, and 441 undergraduates in 1932.

Bray was named head of the school on Peffer's death and served from 1935 until 1947. He was followed by Shreve from 1947 to 1951, Edward W. Comings from 1951 to 1959, and Brage Golding from 1959 to 1966.

In the post-war years, new additions to the faculty added to the excellence of an already flourishing program. Prominent among the new faculty were Joe M. Smith (1945-57), Carroll O. Bennett (1949-59), John E. Myers (1950-66), and H. C. Van Ness (1952-56). These Purdue faculty members were authors of pioneering textbooks in thermodynamics, kinetics and transport phenomena that are still used today. In 1945, Shreve published his monumental Chemical Process Industries, which sold more than 180,000 copies. The research programs of the school were also augmented by the work of J. Henry Rushton on mixing and that of Comings on high pressure thermodynamics. In the early 1960's another best-selling textbook was prepared at Purdue by D. R. Coughanowr and L. B. Koppel, Process Systems Analysis and Control, a book that has served at least two generations of chemical engineers.

The 70's saw a growing emphasis in the school toward fundamental and interdisciplinary research and on engineering science. This shaping of educational and research philosophy began with the appointment of R. A. Greenkorn as head in 1967, was accelerated by L. B. Koppel from 1973 to 1981 in a dedicated effort to add the excellence of the graduate program. R. P. Andres served as head from 1981 to 1987. G. V. Reklaitis served as head of Chemical Engineering from 1987-2004,overseeing the construction of the addition to the building, now renamed the Forney Hall of Chemical Engineering. The current Head, Arvind Varma, assumed leadership of the School in 2004.

In April 2007, the school celebrated the 100-year anniversary of the undergraduate curriculum (learn more).