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April 12, 2007

Purdue chemical engineering celebrates past, present and future with 100th anniversary

Nan Chen operates an X-ray
photoelectron spectrometer

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The Purdue University School of Chemical Engineering is recognizing the 100th anniversary of its curriculum with special events that celebrate the school's past, present and future.

The program, "Evolving Trends in Chemical Engineering Undergraduate Education: Opportunities and Challenges," kicks off with a celebration dinner at 6:30 p.m. Thursday (April 12). Daylong activities that include tours of the chemical engineering laboratories in the morning and keynote speakers and a panel discussion in the afternoon follow on Friday (April 13).

In April 1907, Purdue's board of trustees approved the new undergraduate curriculum in chemical engineering.

"The goal was to provide students with a course of study that combined the principles of chemistry and engineering," said Arvind Varma, the R. Games Slayter Distinguished Professor and head of the School of Chemical Engineering. "Within four years we had 79 undergraduate students enrolled in the program, and so the Purdue School of Chemical Engineering became a reality.

"The school's illustrious history continues to have strong university support and a wealth of experience and talent in its faculty, staff and students."

Purdue's daylong celebration of the school's anniversary on Friday (April 13) include an open house that showcases the various laboratories in the Forney Hall of Engineering. The schedule is as follows:

*  9-9:20 a.m. Catalysis Laboratory, Room 3182, and the Unit Operations Laboratory, Room G014.

*  9:30-9:50 a.m. Biological Laboratory, Room 1190, and the Visualization Laboratory, Room B121.

*  10-10:20 a.m. Fundamentals Laboratory, Room G111, and the Nanomaterials and Solar Laboratory, Room 3140.

*  10:30-10:50 a.m. Hydrogen and CO2 Capture Laboratory, Room 2019, and the Pharmaceutical Engineering Laboratory, Room 3017.

Engineers adjust a test chamber
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The afternoon's events include lectures from Leah Jamieson, the John A. Edwardson Dean of Engineering, who will present "Innovative Trends in Undergraduate Engineering Education"; W. Nicholas Deglass, Purdue professor of chemical engineering, who will present "Historical Remarks About the Evolution of Purdue Chemical Engineering"; and Stephen Beaudion, Purdue professor and associate head of chemical engineering, who will present "Recruitment and Retention: New Approaches."

"Purdue is engaged in revolutionizing our curriculum to prepare our students for the global and technological changes that will shape engineering during the next 20 years," Jamieson said. "The centennial celebration of our chemical engineering curriculum exemplifies these changes and opportunities for future engineers."

A panel discussion on undergraduate curriculum challenges and changes will follow the lectures. Panelists are James Hill, professor and chair of the Iowa State University Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering; Timothy Anderson, professor of chemical engineering and associate dean of engineering at the University of Florida Department of Chemical Engineering; Phillip Wankat, the Clifton L. Lovell Distinguished Professor of Chemical Engineering at Purdue; Rick Roberts, senior vice president of manufacturing for Chevron Phillips Chemical Co. LLC; and Ronna Robertson, site superintendent of E.I. DuPont de Nemours & Co.

The School of Chemical Engineering has about 340 undergraduate students, 117 graduate students and 26 faculty members. It offers expertise and innovative research in catalysis and reaction engineering, polymer/advanced materials, novel and renewable energy sources, fluid mechanics and interfacial phenomena, biochemical engineering, biomaterials, particulate systems, process systems engineering and pharmaceutical engineering.

Arvind Varma
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"In addition to field-defining research, our school has a renowned reputation in several areas of chemical engineering education," Varma said. "We are known for innovative textbooks in areas such as thermodynamics; kinetics, catalysis and reaction engineering; chemical process industries; separations processes; process control; process systems engineering; applied mathematics; high pressure technology; and engineering education."

Varma said the future of chemical engineering will continue to move in other areas such as:

*  Further development in the biological areas, including biomaterials and cellular engineering, and pharmaceuticals.

*  Continued globalization with greater multi-national collaborations.

*  Greater multi-disciplinary research and education.

"We are moving into the renewable energy resources of biomass to biofuels and chemicals, and improving alternative energy sources, such as coal, and hydrogen research for transportation and energy use," Varma said.

Key to this growth is the $32 million school expansion and renovation for the school facilities and the continuing support of alumni, friends and corporations, Varma said.

"In 2000, under the leadership of then head Rex Reklaitis, the Edward W. Comings Professor of Chemical Engineering, the school began the 'Champions for Excellence' campaign," he said. "It was the school's largest enterprise in 60 years to expand and renovate the chemical engineering facility and laboratories."

Marilyn and RobertForney
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A $10 million pledge from 1947 chemical engineering graduates Robert and Marilyn Forney of Unionville, Pa., provided the engineering and design fees and a major portion of the estimated $19.5 million costs for the addition to the facility.  In their honor, the school's facilities have been renamed the Forney Hall of Chemical Engineering.

Robert Forney, who also earned a doctoral degree in chemical engineering from Purdue in 1950, retired in 1989 as executive vice president of DuPont. Marilyn Forney has spent the past 20 years offering expertise in the construction of more than 800 low-income housing units for the elderly and disabled in Delaware and Pennsylvania.

Forney Hall was dedicated in October 2004. The 96,000-square-foot expansion and renovation includes advanced laboratories and amphitheater-style classrooms.

"It provides state-of-the-art facilities for students and faculty researchers," Varma said.

Funding for the addition came from private donations.

The school's next three phases of renovations for the older section of the chemical engineering facility are a $4.75 million project completed last summer, a $2.35 million project to begin this summer and a $4.5 million project to be initiated later.

The School of Chemical Engineering's undergraduate program is ranked 13th in the nation and its graduate program is ranked 14th by U.S. News and World Report and has more than 8,000 alumni around the world.

Writer: Cynthia Sequin, (765) 494-4192,

Sources: Leah Jamieson, (765) 494-5346,

Arvind Varma, (765) 494-0805,

Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096;

Note to Journalists: Interviews with Arvind Varma, W. Nicholas Deglass or Stephen Beaudion can be arranged by contacting Cynthia Sequin, (765) 494-4192,

Nan Chen, now graduated, operates an X-ray photoelectron spectrometer, which uses X-rays to determine the surface composition of catalysts. He is using the device to study how certain catalysts react to automotive exhaust. A new addition in the Forney Hall of Chemical Engineering will contain specialized labs focusing on catalyst research. (Purdue News Service file photo/David Umberger)

A publication-quality photo is available at

Engineers at Purdue University adjust a test chamber used in research to develop a new way of producing hydrogen for fuel cells to automatically recharge batteries in portable electronics, such as notebook computers, an approach that could eliminate the need to use a wall outlet. From foreground at left are research scientist Evgeny Shafirovich, Victor Diakov, then a postdoctoral research associate, and Arvind Varma, the R. Games Slayter Distinguished Professor of Chemical Engineering and head of Purdue's School of Chemical Engineering. (Purdue News Service file photo/David Umberger)

A publication-quality photo is available at

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