Chemical Engineering - History

History

Chemical engineering emerged upon the development of unit operations, a fundamental concept of the discipline chemical engineering. Most authors agree that Davis invented unit operations if not substantially developed it. He gave a series of lectures on unit operations at the Manchester Technical School (University of Manchester today) in 1887, considered to be one of the earliest such about chemical engineering. Three years before Davis' lectures, Henry Edward Armstrong taught a degree course in chemical engineering at the City and Guilds of London Institute. Armstrong's course "failed simply because its graduates ... were not especially attractive to employers." Employers of the time would have rather hired chemists and mechanical engineers. Courses in chemical engineering offered by Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the United States, Owen's College in Manchester, England and University College London suffered under similar circumstances.

Starting from 1888, Lewis M. Norton taught at MIT the first chemical engineering course in the United States. Norton's course was contemporaneous and essentially similar with Armstrong's course. Both courses, however, simply merged chemistry and engineering subjects. "Its practitioners had difficulty convincing engineers that they were engineers and chemists that they were not simply chemists." Unit operations was introduced into the course by William Hultz Walker in 1905. By the early 1920s, unit operations became an important aspect of chemical engineering at MIT and other US universities, as well as at Imperial College London. The American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE), established in 1908, played a key role in making chemical engineering considered an independent science, and unit operations central to chemical engineering. For instance, it defined chemical engineering to be a "science of itself, the basis of which is ... unit operations" in a 1922 report; and with which principle, it had published a list of academic institutions which offered "satisfactory" chemical engineering courses. Meanwhile, promoting chemical engineering as a distinct science in Britain lead to the establishment of the Institution of Chemical Engineers (IChemE) in 1922. IChemE likewise helped make unit operations considered essential to the discipline.

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