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Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering

Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at Illinois

Mission & Vision

The department’s mission is to improve the human prospect through the study and practice of chemical engineering by education, research, economic development and service to the profession and society. Our vision is to distinguish ourselves through sterling technical and educational quality, aimed consciously at conceiving new ways to benefit an increasingly complex and integrated world.

Innovative & Exceptional Education

Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at Illinois is known around the world for its outstanding undergraduate and graduate programs. A hallmark of the undergraduate experience is the emphasis on design projects, undergraduate research opportunities and internships and co-ops that lead to job offers. Graduate students come to Illinois to engage in high-impact research alongside accomplished and ambitious faculty. Our alumni include many legendary leaders in academia and industry.

The department is a unit within the School of Chemical Sciences in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. The department is housed in LAS because Chemical Engineering grew out of the Department of Chemistry as an applied science. The department also has close ties to the Grainger College of Engineering, which has been consistently ranked among the top engineering schools in the nation by U.S. News & World Report.

Rigorous Research Program

Faculty lead a number of pioneering and interdisciplinary research programs. For example, they are investigating ways to produce fuels and chemicals in more efficient and sustainable ways and they are working to improve human health through better drug delivery and new biomaterials. They conduct experimental and computational research in state-of-the-art laboratories and research centers, such as the Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology and the National Center for Supercomputing Applications, home to Blue Waters, one of the fastest supercomputers in the world.

Commitment to Diversity

The Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering supports the University of Illinois’ diversity values statement and believes that diversity strengthens excellence and innovation. A diverse workforce is more productive, creative, and adept at solving complex challenges. In the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, we are training future global leaders and recognize that we as a department should strive to reflect the world. Read more about diversity initiatives.


The University of Illinois Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering’s long-held reputation for excellence dates back to 1901. Founded in that year by Samuel Parr (1858-1931), the department is one of the oldest chemical engineering departments in the nation.

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At Illinois, Parr developed standard methods for measuring the quality of coal and invented the Parr calorimeter, which is still used today for measuring the heating value of fuels. He also taught the first courses at the university in applied chemistry and created the chemical engineering curriculum. Among the many early graduates of the department was Illinois native Arnold Beckman (BS ’22), who went on to invent the world’s first pH meter.

Over the years the department evolved under the direction of several notable leaders. Donald Keyes, who became the head in 1926, developed the first successful commercial method for producing absolute alcohol — a method still used today. Samuel Parr founded the Standard Calorimeter Company, which was later renamed the Parr Instrument Company. The Moline, Ill.-based company continues today and is known around the world for its fine craftmanship and outstanding engineering.

In 1950, new laboratory facilities for chemical engineering were established in the East Chemistry Building—now known as Roger Adams Laboratory. Under the leadership of H. Fraser Johnstone, who emphasized graduate education, the department recruited new faculty to ensure the standards of excellence for decades to come. Among those to join the faculty was fluid mechanics expert Thomas J. Hanratty, now a professor emeritus. Notable students to come out of the department around this time included former GE executive Walt Robb (PHD ’51), former GE CEO Jack Welch (PHD ’60), and former International Paper CEO John Georges (BS ’51).

The department became an independent unit within the School of Chemical Sciences in 1968, when Jim Westwater was the head. As the department grew, so did the need for space, leading to an expansion into Davenport Hall in 1988. Under the leadership of Richard Alkire, the renowned electrochemist, large parts of Roger Adams Laboratory were renovated. In 1989, longtime faculty member Harry Drickamer, a pioneer in high-pressure studies of condensed matter, was presented with the National Medal of Science by President George. H.W. Bush. In 2002, guided by Chip Zukoski, the department changed its name to the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering to reflect the growing influence of biological and genetic research in chemical engineering research and education.

In recent years, under the leadership of Deborah Leckband (2003-2005), Ed Seebauer (2005-2011) and current head Paul Kenis, the department has continued to enhance the educational experiences of students and lead bold research programs. Design projects have been integrated throughout the entire undergraduate curriculum. Student spaces, such as the Undergraduate Learning Center in Noyes Lab and the Roger Adams Laboratory lecture hall, have been renovated. Laboratories also have been updated as new faculty join the department and launch research programs. The department is now home to 19 faculty, the largest it’s ever been.


The Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering undergraduate program is accredited by the Engineering Accreditation Commission of ABET, 111 Market Place, Suite 1050, Baltimore, MD 21202-4012, telephone: (410) 347-7700. That accreditation includes consideration of the program’s educational objectives and outcomes and assures that this program meets the expectations for training a professional chemical and biomolecular engineer. For a list of Program Educational Objectives and Student Outcomes, please visit the Accreditation page.

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