Pioneers of Chemical Engineering

Here we list down six chemical engineers who have truly inspired the chemical engineering community, used their skills to shape the world we live in, and improved quality of life for all.

George E. Davis

George E Davis is often regarded as the ‘founding father’ of chemical engineering. He greatly shaped the world of chemical engineering in the late 1800s. Davis argued for the creation of an institution for “chemists with a thorough knowledge of physics combined with a fair knowledge of mechanics”. He greatly stressed that many of the skills, processes, and principles used in chemical engineering are common to industrial applications. He invented the essential unit operation concept and wrote the first textbook on chemical engineering in 1901. Davis also attempted to find the first society of chemical engineers. His main profession was chemistry, particularly industrial chemical processes. In 1887, he presented a series of twelve lectures at the Manchester School of Technology. George Davis surely took his hobbies to an extreme level.

Carl Bosch

No list of outstanding chemical engineers is complete without Carl Bosch. He is the one who scaled up the Haber-Bosch process developed by industrial chemist Fritz Haber. This task involved the construction of plant and apparatus which would stand up to working at high gas pressure and high reaction temperatures. Haber’s catalysts, osmium, and uranium had to be replaced by a contact substance which would be both cheaper and more easily available. Bosch and his collaborators found the solution by using pure iron with certain additives. Bosch succeeded in working out methods for the industrial production of nitrogen fertilizers, thus providing practically every country in the world with sufficient fertilizers for agricultural purposes and making it possible to produce enough food for the growing population. Without it, we would only be able to produce two-thirds the amount of food we do today.

Dermot Manning

It is hard to imagine a world without plastic. Polyethene (PE) is the world’s most common polymer, with applications from low-cost to extreme-performance products. Polyethylene was discovered twice, each time by accident. Hans von Pechmann, a German Chemist accidentally synthesized it, in 1898, as an unexpected result of heating diazomethane. Two research chemists, Reginald Gibson, and Eric Fawcett were the second ones to discover it accidentally. However, the crucial breakthrough in understanding polyethylene and its production was done by Michael Perrin, who converted this accidental discovery into a reproducible reaction.

But, the person responsible for building a high-pressure reactor, making the production experiment possible was a chemical engineer, Dermot Manning. Dermot is also credited to enable ethylene production, from pilot to demonstration and full-scale productions.

Arthur D Little

Arthur D Little has often been called the ‘American father’ of Chemical Engineering. He is primarily known as the founder of the ‘Arthur D. Little’ consulting company. He conducted analytical studies, the precursor of the consulting studies for which the firm would later become famous. In addition to that, he is credited with introducing the term ‘Unit Operations’ to chemical engineering and promoting the concept of industrial research. It was Arthur’s passion for research and improving processes that made him and his company such a success. As chairman of the Visiting Committee of the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering at MIT, he was responsible for the introduction of the Chemical Engineering Practice School.

John H. Perry

The well-renowned Perry’s Chemical Engineers’ Handbook is the bible for Chemical Engineers. This book wouldn’t have been possible without John H. Perry for whom the book is named – as he edited its first edition. John was a physical chemist and a chemical engineer. He was globally known for his development of improved catalysts for sulfuric acid production. However, it is his book that truly shaped the world and has been a key source of knowledge chemical engineers for over 70+ years.

Trevor Kletz

Well-known as ‘The Father of inherent safety’, Trevor Kletz worked on improving and ensuring safety in the chemical process industries. He was a major promoter of Hazop. He is also listed in The Palgrave Dictionary of Anglo-Jewish History. He wrote eleven books and well over a hundred peer-reviewed papers on process safety and loss prevention. He was a Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering, the Royal Society of Chemistry, the Institution of Chemical Engineers, and the American Institute of Chemical Engineers. He was awarded medals by the latter two institutions.


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