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Department History

Chemical Engineering at Northeastern began with one student in 1909 when tuition was $100 a year (including YMCA membership), rooms were $1.50 a week, and board was from $3.50 to $5.00 a week. Co-op assignments paid from $5.00 to $6.00 a week for thirty weeks. By 1917, there were two faculty: William F. Odom (also coach of the baseball team) and Samuel A. S. Strahan (the first Department Head).

The curriculum was defined such that chemical engineers “…must be able to consider propositions, processes, and plans from the combined viewpoints of the chemist and the engineer [and that their] training should of necessity be very broad, combining that of both of the above named professions…”

That description of chemical engineering as a discipline is even truer today than it was in the early 1900′s – Chemical Engineering has grown in scope tremendously over the past century, with ChemE’s now bringing their expertise and knowledge to a diversity of other fields, including the chemical and biological sciences, materials science, and nanoscale engineering.

The department now boasts a total of 136 undergraduates in the program from all over the United States and the world. In addition to the core traditional chemical engineering classes in Thermodynamics, Transport Phenomenon, and Reaction Kinetics, the department also offers a number of minor programs in cutting edge focus areas, such as biochemical engineering and advanced materials.

A full-time doctoral program leading to the Ph.D. degree was established in 1964 with four doctoral students. In 1967, the first Ph.D. from the department was awarded to Ralph A. Buonopane who had been appointed an assistant professor in the department in 1966, and would eventually go on to become department chairperson, serving from 1986 to 2001.

Today, our graduate program is rapidly on the rise, with 32 students in the graduate program. Our graduate students are a diverse and highly qualified group, hailing from all over the world, including the United States, India, Turkey, some European nations and China, to name a few countries.

The current department reflects the changing face of chemical engineering today, as well as the changing landscape at Northeastern, which as a university has made a commitment to excellence in research. There are currently eighteen research-active faculty in the department, a number that continues to increase as chemical engineers increasingly work at the intersection of many disciplines. These changes are manifest not only in the diverse research that the department faculty are pursuing, but also in our curriculum, as we prepare tomorrow’s engineers for the challenges they face. Today’s chemical engineering student is likely to see courses in tissue engineering, polymer science, or nanotechnology alongside the traditional chemical engineering courses. Together with co-op experiences and hands-on chemical engineering experiments in the unit operations courses, graduates of the program are exceptionally well prepared for any path they might choose thereafter, be it academic, industrial, or professional.