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100 Years of Excellence

It’s Our Birthday!

2024 marks the 100th birthday of the Department of Chemical Engineering, now Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering.

Brief History

Chemical engineering at NC State evolved out of the industrial chemistry program – the branch of chemistry which applies chemical and physical processes to transform raw materials into beneficial products. The 1895-96 college record shows industrial chemistry was taught, “with attention being given to the more common industries, as sulphuric acid making, bleaching, dyeing, fertilizer making, paints, oils, etc.”

The first course in chemical engineering was created in 1899 “for young men seeking employment in the analytical or engineering departments of the various chemical industries such as the manufacture of soap, paper, leather, vegetable oils, glass, porcelain, illuminating gas, sulphuric acid, fertilizers, etc.” A curriculum was created, and classes were held in the Main Building (later named Holladay Hall). However, the curriculum was abandoned in 1902.

In the 1903 yearbook, The Agromeck, “chemical engineering” is written beneath the names of four seniors: Charles Lester Creech, Junius Franklin Diggs, Oliver Max Gardner and Charles Edward Trotter. However, the commencement program for May 27, 1903, shows these four students plus John Houston Shuford and Jonathan Winborne White were granted B.S. degrees in industrial chemistry.

The 1916-17 college record shows that “A Course (curricula) in Chemical Engineering” was reinstated. This four-year course led to the degree of Bachelor of Science, whereas the other engineering disciplines (civil, electrical and mechanical) led to Bachelor of Engineering degrees. The commencement program of May 25, 1920, shows three students receiving Bachelor of Science degrees in chemical engineering:

  • James Cyrus “Jimmie” Black Jr., from Davidson, NC: Sophomore Class Secretary-Treasurer, Senior Class Vice President, Varsity Football, Varsity Baseball (Captain Senior Year), 1st Lieutenant ROTC (senior year). Jimmie took a job with the Aluminum Company of America (Alcoa) in Badin, NC, as a researcher.
  • George Maxwell “Max” Greenfield, from Kernersville, NC: Berzelius Chemical Society, Pullen Literary Society, Tennis Club, Captain ROTC. Max took a job with Standard Oil Company of New Jersey in Charleston, SC, as a stillman, running a distillation process.
  • Marion Francis Trice, from Hendersonville, NC: Sophomore Class Vice President, Cheerleader, Technician Editor-In-Chief, Senior Class Poet, Glee Club, Agromeck Associate Editor, Captain ROTC. Marion took a job with Ellis-Foster in Montclair, NJ, as a chemist.

The School of Engineering was established on May 28, 1923, and the chemical engineering department was organized as a part of the School of Engineering by the Board of Trustees of North Carolina State College of Agriculture and Engineering in September 1924. Dr. E. E. Randolph, Professor of Chemistry, was appointed Head of the Department and its sole faculty member. Twenty-two students registered that first year and all classes and labs, as well as the faculty office, were housed in one room on the corner of Winston Hall.

The commencement program of June 9, 1925, shows two students receiving their Bachelor of Science degrees in chemical engineering under the School of Engineering: Frederick Vernon Harcourt Smith and Kenneth MacKenzie Urquhart.

The 1924-25 college catalog lists three chemical engineering graduate students: Winslow Samuel Anderson, Wen Pei Chen and Luther George Willis. None of these three students ever received a degree in chemical engineering; however, Wen Pei Chen did earn an M.S. in textile and apparel management in 1925.

The first graduate degrees in chemical engineering were award to the following:

  • James Whitney Perry – Master of Science in Chemical Engineering on May 15, 1928
  • Durant York Brannock – Professional Degree in Chemical Engineering on June 9, 1931
  • Rupert Leslie Cox – Master of Science in Chemical Engineering on June 5, 1939
  • James K Ferrell – Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering on June 6, 1954

More milestones of the 1930s include: Manuel Alvarez Urquiza becoming the first Latino and international student to earn a B.S. degree in Chemical Engineering, 1931, and Clara Poteat becoming the first female student to take courses in chemical engineering, 1934.

By the end of the 1940s, Lois Margaret Madden graduated as the first woman with a degree in chemical engineering; she was also the third woman to receive an engineering degree from NC State. We also had seven professors, two instructors, 177 undergraduates and four M.S. students. The department had outgrown Winston Hall and in the summer of 1950, moved to a newly-constructed Riddick Hall. Since the 1950s and before the Department’s next move, many new faculty members joined including Hubert Winston, the first African-American to receive a doctorate from the Department and the first African-American faculty member in the College of Engineering. 

Our last move, in 2005, was to our current home in Engineering Building I on Centennial Campus. The department hosted its CBE Centennial Alumni Weekend in March 2024.