The Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign has a rich history that can be traced back to 1901 when 'applied chemistry' was established on campus. Since then, our program has continued to evolve and grow while maintaining our longstanding commitment to discovery and student success. 

Throughout the 20th century, chemical engineering expanded from chemical production to the sustainable production of fuels, plastics, foods, and consumer products. In 2002, to mark the increased role that biology plays in product manufacturing, the department was one of the first to change its name to the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering.

Interactive Historical Timeline

Decade: 2010s | 2000s | 1990s | 1980s | 1970s | 1960s | 1950s | 1940s | 1930s | 1920s | 1910s | 1900s | 1800s

Paul J. A. Kenis appointed as department head

Paul J. A. Kenis served as department head from 2011 to 2022. During his tenure, he enhanced student experiences and helped develop bold research programs. Design projects were integrated throughout the entire undergraduate curriculum. He oversaw the renovation of student spaces such as the Undergraduate Learning Center in Noyes Laboratory and the Roger Adams Laboratory lecture hall. 


Edmund G. Seebauer serves as department head

Edmund G. Seebauer served as department head from 2005 to 2011. He created the university's first multi-institutional Ph.D. program with the National University of Singapore. He also instituted a new program of team-based, project-oriented design experiences throughout the undergraduate curriculum, which was unique in the U.S. for its scale. 




Deborah E. Leckband becomes department head

Deborah E. Leckband served as department head from 2003 to 2005. She greatly enhanced the department's educational experiences and research programs. Leckband also has the distinction of being our department's first female department head. 


We became the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering

Guided by Charles F. 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.


Harry G. Drickamer awarded the National Medal of Science

Longtime faculty member Harry G. 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 1989. 


Department spaces evolve and expand

As the department grew so did the need for space; the department expanded into Davenport Hall in 1988. Large parts of Roger Adams Laboratory were renovated under the leadership of renowned electrochemist Richard C. Alkire. 


The department becomes an indepdendent unit

The department became an independent unit within the School of Chemical Sciences in 1968 under the leadership of department head Jim Westwater.


Thomas J. Hanratty joins the department

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 including fluid mechanics expert Thomas J. Hanratty. 


Roger Adams Laboratory is established

A new laboratory facility for chemical engineering was established in the East Chemistry Building—now known as Roger Adams Laboratory. 


Donald B. Keyes becomes the department head

Donald B. Keyes became the department head in 1926. Among his contributions, Keyes developed the first successful commercial method for producing absolute alcohol—a method that is still used today. 


Arnold O. Beckman graduates from the department

Arnold O. Beckman began his studies at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign in the fall of 1918. As a freshman, he worked on the synthesis of organic mercury compounds with Carl Shipp Marvel, which inspired him to change his major from organic chemistry to physical chemistry. Beckman earned his bachelor's degree in chemical engineering in 1922. He went on to found Beckman Instruments based on his 1934 invention of the pH meter, a device for measuring acidity that revolutionized many fields. 


Chemical engineering discipline established at Illinois

The Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering’s long-held reputation for excellence dates back to 1901 when the discipline was founded by Samuel W. Parr, making the department one of the oldest chemical engineering departments in the nation. We established the Parr Lecture to honor our founder. 


Standard Calorimeter Company is founded

Samuel W. Parr founded the Standard Calorimeter Company in 1899 in Champaign, Illinois. Parr had developed a simplified instrument for measuring the heating value of coal at a time when such devices were not generally available. Parr's 'calorie meter' (written and pronounced Calorimeter) and other fuel testing devices were contributing factors in the development of a market for the extensive resources of bituminous coal available in Illinois at a time when most believed that the only useful coal had to come from the eastern United States coal fields.


Samuel W. Parr joins the University of Illinois

Samuel W. Parr was born in Granville, Illinois, and graduated with a bachelor's degree from the University of Illinois in 1884. He spent a year in graduate work at Cornell University, from which he received a master's degree in 1885. He held various academic posts until he joined the faculty at the University of Illinois in 1891 as a Professor of Applied Chemistry.