Lloyd M. Robeson

Principal Research Associate
Air Products and Chemicals Inc.
BSChE ’64

For his exceptional technical contributions as a pioneer in polymer sciences and materials development, and for his superb mentoring of industrial colleagues, the College of Engineering is proud to present the Distinguished Engineering Alumnus Award to Lloyd M. Robeson.

The Desire to Learn

“The dreams you have in the laboratory may not look like they will happen,” says Lloyd Robeson. “Twenty years later it may not be exactly what you expected at the time, but it’s happened.”

The holder of 92 patents, Robeson has expanded the fields of polymer blends and engineering polymers since graduating from Purdue with a BSChE in seven semesters and earning a PhD from the University of Maryland in three years.

“When I started work in 1967, man had not walked on the moon, Silicon Valley was just a peach orchard, and a handheld calculator was a slide rule,” says Robeson. “In the next 30 to 40 years, the change is going to be even greater.”

Knowledge, the desire to learn, started early for Robeson. “When I was about three or four, I noticed the one thing my dad really enjoyed doing was reading comics in the newspaper. I thought, wow, that was really interesting. I guess I tried to get my mother, who was a schoolteacher, to teach me to read and then later to do math. It’s really her help that got me my start.”

Born and raised in the farming community near Logansport, Indiana, Robeson grew up with small schools and close-knit classrooms. “We had 40 kids in the whole high school before consolidation,” he says, “and we had very good teachers.”

One of these teachers was a retired Salvation Army captain who was learning chemistry alongside his students. “At least we didn’t blow up the lab,” Robeson says. A young woman getting her master’s in mathematics from Purdue, Juanita Pugh, stirred Robeson’s interest in math and science, as did a retired Purdue physics professor by the name of Albert Hanes. “As you might expect,” Robeson says, “he was dedicated to excellence.”

Encouragement, Challenges

Prompted by his math teacher, Robeson competed in a senior mathematics competition against students from much larger high schools—many of which had clubs specifically dedicated to the competition—and did well enough to be placed as one of the top ten students in the state.

“There was a perception that kids from the small schools didn’t have a chance because our education was not supposed to be as good,” says Robeson. “With that perception there was some consternation on my part—would I be able to compete at Purdue?”

As a freshman, Robeson skipped beginning chemistry and went right into the honors program.

Robeson spent two summers as an undergraduate working for DuPont in Orange, Texas, designing computer process technology at its earliest stages. After graduating from Maryland, he worked as a research scientist from 1967 to 1986 at the Union Carbide Corporation, where he was involved with the commercialization of a multitude of engineering polymers and specialized polymer blends. From the outset, Robeson steered away from management positions in order to concentrate on his real interest, polymer research.

Invention and Leadership

Today, Robeson is a major industrial contributor in the field of polymer blends in the United States. He is a principal research associate at Air Products and Chemicals, the largest global supplier of electronic materials and performance chemicals, with $5.4 billion in revenue, more than 17,200 employees, and operations in more than 30 countries.

In 2001, he was elected to the National Academy of Engineering for his contributions to polymer science. One of Robeson’s most important inventions is a polymer that can be used in the emergency room and industry and that has seen playing time as a shield for injured football players. A moldable compound that melts in hot water to a putty-like consistency, Robeson’s invention can be used to splint broken bones or reinforce the spine of babies born with spina bifida, a common birth defect in which the spine does not close properly. When used on burn patients, Robeson’s compound can reduce scarring by 95 percent. “That’s the invention I really feel good about,” Robeson says, “because it has helped a lot of people.”

Inducted into the University of Maryland’s Innovation Hall of Fame last year, Robeson has also received both the Industrial Polymer (2002) and Applied Polymer Science (2003) awards. He is a published author with more than 90 scientific publications, one co-authored book, and another book on polymer blends in the making.

“Engineering is an inherent part of technology,” Robeson says of the future, “and changes in technology keep exponentially expanding. We are just one breakthrough away from major advancements in many important areas that can improve the quality of life and our environment.”

2003- Inducted into the A. James Clark School of Engineering, Innovation Hall of Fame, University of Maryland;
Applied Polymer Science Award: American Chemical Society
2002- Industrial Polymer Science Award: Polymer Division of American Chemical Society;
Distinguished Engineering Alumnus, University of Maryland
2001- Elected member of the National Academy of Engineering;
Distinguished Chemical Engineering Alumnus, University of Maryland
1986- Principal Research Scientist, Air Products and Chemicals
1967-86 Research Scientist, Union Carbide Corporation.

BSChE ’64, Purdue University
PhD ’67, University of Maryland