Chemical Engineering

UToledoChemE Department History

In the early 1870’s, Jessup Scott and a group of local businessmen sought to create an institution of higher learning in Toledo. Their initiative led to the founding of the “Toledo University of Arts and Trades” in 1872. Scott donated 160 acres for the campus.

Delos M. Palmer, a University Michigan graduate, joined the University in 1926 as an Assistant Professor of Physics. Five years later, he became Dean of the newly formed College of Engineering. A faculty committee on professional degrees had recommended creating five engineering departments (chemical, civil, electrical, mechanical, and general). However, Dean Palmer decided to offer a single general bachelor of engineering degree because of concern over having sufficient resources for five programs.

The Engineering College’s Bachelor of Engineering degree program was accredited in 1942. After a period of tremendous growth, the general engineering degree was replaced in 1950 by five specialized degrees: Civil, Chemical, Mechanical, and Industrial Engineering as well as Engineering Physics.

The Chemical Engineering Department was established in 1946 under the leadership of Walter V. Burg. He and his wife had joined the University in 1936 after fleeing Austria. His initial University appointment was as a lecturer in Physics and Chemistry while his wife had become a member of the Department of Chemistry.

Professor Burg continued as chair until retiring in 1964. During his tenure, he hired Professors K. H. Lin, Joseph Palermo, and Gary Bennett. In 1964, this faculty cadre was able to secure ABET accreditation for the Chemical Engineering Bachelor of Science – accreditation that has been held continuously ever since.

The 1960’s was a period of change for the country and the Department. Professors Lin and Palermo left in the mid 60’s for jobs at Oak Ridge National Laboratory and Union Carbide, respectively. Professor Clyde W. Balch became chair upon the retirement of Professor Burg. He had taught general engineering courses at the University as an Assistant Professor of Engineering Mechanics from 1947 to 1955. Professor Balch left in 1955 to found Maumee Chemical Company (the company’s primary product was an artificial sweetener), but resigned his position as Vice President and Director of Commercial Development in 1964 to return as chair.

During Professor Balch’s tenure as chair, the Department expanded with the hiring of Professors Ken DeWitt from Northwestern (1965), Millard Jones from Dow (1966), Leslie Lahti from Purdue (1967), James Lacksonen from PPG (1967), Charles Stoops from Philips Petroleum (1967), and Harrish Merchant (to teach materials science). A complete list of Department chairs is available here while a complete list of faculty members is available here.

Notably, Joseph Boston left the University in 1980 to become one of the founders of AspenTech, a leading supplier of process simulation, design, and enterprise planning software.

Graduate studies began in 1912 at The University of Toledo. One year later, the first graduate degree was conferred by the University. The Engineering College began offering graduate studies in 1949. A number of Masters programs were developed in the 1950’s with conferral of the first M.S. in 1954. The Departmental M.S. degree program began in 1963.

Professor Balch spearheaded the effort to create a college-wide Doctoral program. Upon its inception in 1966, a single degree was offered with specialization in one of four areas (Chemical and Biological Transport, Engineering Mechanics, Electronics and Energy, and Systems Theory and Engineering) that were administered by interdepartmental committees. The first degree in Chemical Engineering was awarded in 1972. Individual departments assumed control of the Doctoral program in 1995 and now determine degree requirements.

Over the years, the graduate program has evolved from primarily offering course work for local working engineers to admitting full-time students that perform research and complete a thesis or dissertation as part of their degree requirements. One of the earliest Public Health Service (later the United States Environmental Protection Agency) grants provided support for students working toward a specialty in water pollution control as the Department was one of the first to offer an environmental option in Chemical Engineering.

Several faculty members developed close relationships with NASA facilities (Plumbrook in Sandusky and Lewis Research Laboratory in Cleveland) and traveled to their sites to offer courses at both the M.S. and Ph.D. levels. Some students completed Ph.D. residency requirements by performing research on campus which helped engender further research collaborations between the Department and NASA.

In 1986, Dr. Saleh Jabarin joined the Department after leaving the Owens-Illinois research group. He brought with him several individuals from O-I to form the Polymer Institute. The Polymer Institute performs contract research for companies involved in the manufacture and use of plastic containers, especially blow molded polyethylene terephthalate bottles.

The formation of a new Bioengineering Department in 1996 led to the loss of two faculty members: Ron Fournier (the first chair of the Bioengineering Department) and Patty Relue. In conjunction with the retirement of Professors Gary Bennett, Jim Lacksonen, and Millard Jones, this resulted in a dramatic turnover of faculty between 1996 and 2000.

The Department has had three homes. Initially housed in University Hall with laboratories in the old field house, it moved into the old Engineering Science building in 1960. In 1995, the Department moved into its current home: a $21 million multi-building complex that houses faculty offices, undergraduate laboratories, graduate laboratories, computer laboratories, and classrooms.

On January 1, 1997 the Department officially changed its name to Chemical & Environmental Engineering. This reflected a Departmental initiative to develop educational and research activities in the environmental engineering area, especially environmental reaction engineering and pollution prevention.

During the 2004-2005 academic year 36 students graduated with a Bachelor’s degree. Nearly all have found industrial positions or continued their academic studies. Currently, the Department has ~60 seniors, ~35 juniors, ~50 sophomores, ~60 freshman, and ~40 graduate students.

The 11 member faculty possesses diverse backgrounds and educational experiences. The faculty includes three women and two of Hispanic descent. The majority are from the United States but three come from India/Sri Lanka, one from Korea, and one from Brazil.

The Department and affiliated Polymer Institute have averaged ~ $1,750,000 in external research funding per year for the past six years. Additionally, the faculty has received numerous College, University, and professional awards for excellence in research and teaching. Current and former Professors Fournier, Jabarin, and Abraham won the University Outstanding Researcher Award while current and former Professors DeWitt, LeBlanc, and Coleman won the University Outstanding Teacher Award. Professor Coleman won the College Outstanding Teacher Award while current and former Professors Varanasi, Nadarajah, Abraham, and Coleman won the College Outstanding Researcher Award. Professor Kim won the College Excellence in Supervision of Undergraduate Research Award. Finally, Julie Fischer-Kinney, our former Academic Program Coordinator, won the University Outstanding Advisor Award.

Our department chairs over the department history are cataloged here.

Last Updated: 6/27/22