chemical engineering

Chemical engineering was the fourth engineering course to be added to the curriculum, in 1914, following civil, mechanical, and electrical. “The object was to give a course which would better prepare a young graduate to take up work leading to the management of industrial plants than would any of the engineering courses or the course in science already established,” according to History of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, 1824-1914, written by President Palmer Ricketts.

A century ago, faculty, students, and alumni of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute helped shape the nascent field of chemical engineering. They applied their talent and ingenuity to advance technologies critical to the era, seeking new ways to use, manufacture, and refine a range of chemicals.

Today, faculty and students in the Howard P. Isermann Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering (CBE) at Rensselaer remain at the leading edge of their field. They employ many of the same fundamental techniques as their forebears, but apply powerful new tools to address the grand engineering challenges that are poised to dominate the 21st century: clean water, personalized health care, energy security, space travel, sustainability, and climate change.

The first chemical engineering course at Rensselaer was offered in 1914, and a year later the university awarded its first chemical engineering degree. To celebrate a century of impact and accomplishments in chemical engineering, and to look ahead at the challenges on the horizon, CBE will host a series of events, meetings, and seminars.

Chemical Engineering

Eighteen students enrolled in the first chemical engineering course.

“The transformation of chemical engineering at Rensselaer is a major success story. From its roots in applied chemistry, it has evolved to become an exciting place for multidisciplinary research in key areas from bio- and nanotechnologies, to energy, advanced materials, and high performance computing to solve grand challenges of today,” said Shekhar Garde, dean of the School of Engineering at Rensselaer, who was department head of CBE from 2007 to June 2014. “With dynamic faculty, a growing body of undergraduate and graduate students, and world-class facilities supporting new areas of research, we expect a bright future for chemical and biological engineering in the next century.”

The department’s graduate program has flourished over the past quarter century thanks to the generous support by Howard P. Isermann ’42, a emeritus member of the Rensselaer Board of Trustees, and a celebrated chemical engineer who developed a key ingredient used in sunscreen.

The centennial events begin during the 2014 Reunion & Homecoming weekend. On Saturday, October 11, in the auditorium of the Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies, CBE will host a celebration for the Rensselaer community to learn more about the history, alumni/ae, accomplishments, and future of the department. President Shirley Ann Jackson will lead the celebration, which will be followed by lab tours, a poster session, and a reception.

In November, a reunion of Rensselaer chemical and biological engineers will be held at the annual meeting of the American Institute of Chemical Engineering. During the fall 2014 and spring 2015 semesters at Rensselaer, CBE is hosting a series of seminars featuring leading chemical engineers from around the world to speak about their research and reflect on the current state and future of the field.

The CBE centennial anniversary event is part of a series of celebrations marking the bridge to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute’s bicentennial in 2024. The achievements of Rensselaer people—past and present—will be celebrated and important milestones highlighted as Rensselaer approaches its 200th year.

For a full schedule of CBE centennial events, visit the website.