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History of the Department

The College of Engineering at the University is one of the five-oldest continuously-operating engineering programs in the country.

Created in 1837, just six years after the formation of the University, the college remains an active and vital part of the University’s higher education mission and solidifies the institution as the Capstone for higher education in the state of Alabama.

Chemical & Biological Engineering Department History (PDF) by Dr. Gary April

The Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering originated out of the need for a degree that emphasized industrial aspects of chemistry. The department was established as the Chemical Engineering Department in 1910, just one year after the inception of the chemical engineering professional society, the American Institute of Chemical Engineers. The first UA chemical engineering degree was awarded in 1914. During the early years, a professional degree was available to students in addition to the traditional bachelor’s and masters’s degrees. In the early 1960s, the College of Engineering developed the doctorate programs in response to the arrival of NASA and other research-intensive organizations in northern Alabama. The department awarded the first two doctorate degrees in the College of Engineering in 1964.

Throughout the years, the changing face of the chemical industry has been reflected within UA’s chemical engineering degree program. From highly practical bachelor’s and master’s degree curricula through the 1960s and 1970s, the department evolved to keep pace with changes in industry and make sure that the academic degrees retained relevance as student career choices became more diverse. The mission of the department remains to educate young professionals as translators of fundamental knowledge into viable solutions to problems that are technically, environmentally, sociologically, economically and globally significant.

The department was renamed to include biological engineering in 2004 with a corresponding curriculum change to reflect a growing national trend toward life-science applications for chemical engineering students, toward greater emphasis on small-scale chemical processing within nanotechnology and biotechnology areas, and to provide increased opportunities for students who have an interest in these new professional career options. The degrees awarded under the new curriculum and departmental name remain unchanged, all being in the field of chemical engineering.