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Chemical engineering celebrates centennial

A panel discussion featuring four of the nation’s top chemical engineers will highlight a symposium Wednesday and Thursday celebrating the 100th anniversary of the founding of the department of chemical engineering at Lehigh.

The “Chemical Engineering Fest,” which begins with a reception at 4 p.m. Wednesday in the Iacocca Hall Tower, will examine the past, present and future of chemical engineering. A presentation of posters by the department’s faculty and graduate students will follow at 5 p.m. An exhibit by the American Chemical Society will be on display at the entrance to Iacocca Hall and will remain at Lehigh for one month.

Gregory Farrington, president of Lehigh, will give an invited address on “Engineering Education in a Global Age” prior to the banquet dinner at 6 p.m. in Wood Dining Hall.

Lehigh’s degree-granting program in chemical engineering began in 1902. Half a century later, in 1951, the chemical engineering department was established.

Much of the two-day symposium will be devoted to a discussion of what Anthony McHugh, P.C. Rossin Senior Professor and department chair of chemical engineering, calls the “O” revolution that the field is experiencing.

“Chemical engineering education, like engineering education in general, is undergoing an ‘O’ revolution in bio, opto, nano and info,” says McHugh, referring to bioengineering, optical technologies, nanotechnology, and information technology.

“Chemical engineering permeates all of these areas and many other disciplines as well. It already encompasses biotechnology, polymers, ceramics, colloids, catalysis and reaction engineering, and environmental engineering, as well as information technology. For example, one of the areas of nanotechnology deals with sub-micron-sized particles and was previously called colloidal science; what we have in this case is just a re-definition of terms.”

At 10 a.m. Thursday, McHugh will join Len Wenzel and Curtis Clump, professors emeriti of chemical engineering, in the Wood Dining Room for a discussion of chemical engineering, past and present, at Lehigh. This will be followed by the panel discussion on the future of chemical engineering, which will begin at 1 p.m. in the Wood Dining Room.

Speakers will be L. Louis Hegedus, senior vice president for research and development of ATOFINA Chemicals; Gerard E. Tarzia, vice president and worldwide director of Rohm and Haas Co.’s monomers business; Morton M. Denn, the Albert Einstein Professor of Science and Engineering and director of the Levich Institute for Physico-Chemical Hydrodynamics at the City College of the City University of New York; and Matthew V. Tirrell, the Richard A. Auhll Professor and dean of engineering at the University of California at Santa Barbara.

As it hits the century mark, Lehigh’s chemical engineering department enrolls 125 undergraduate majors, 61 full-time graduate students and 64 part-time graduate students. The faculty numbers 15. One professor, Leslie Sperling, recently retired, and William Schiesser will follow this year. One new professor, Anand Jagota, will join the department as a full professor in January 2004. Jagota will also direct Lehigh’s bioengineering and life sciences program. The department will appoint three additional faculty members in the near future.

Research grants in the department total almost $2 million a year. The graduate program ranked 27th out of a nationwide total of about 180 chemical engineering graduate programs in the last survey by the National Research Council.

The chemical engineering department is distinguished by its relatively small size, its close ties to other departments, its research centers and institutes, its supportive alumni, and a faculty who are active in research while maintaining close working relationships with students, sayscHugh, who came to Lehigh last January from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

“We have close ties to biological sciences through the bioengineering program, to the polymer science and engineering program, and to materials science and engineering,” McHugh says. “Our two polymers-related research centers [the Emulsion Polymers Institute and the Polymer Interfaces Center] are world-renowned, as is our Center for Chemical Process Modeling and Control.

“Our students, graduate and undergraduate, are an extraordinary group of people. They tell us in exit interviews that the faculty make them work hard but also give them excellent guidance. Our alumni have been very successful in their careers. More importantly, they have an incredible commitment to—and pride in—the university. This is true across Lehigh, and it has always been a distinguishing aspect of the university.”

For more information on the Chemical Engineering Fest, contact Robin Armbruster at rma2@lehigh.edu or visit the department’s web site.

--Kurt Pfitzer
kap4@lehigh.edu

Posted on Tuesday, October 28, 2003

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