Skip to content Skip to main navigation Report an accessibility issue

History of the Department

History of the Department


A chemical engineering curriculum first appears in the UT catalog. The curriculum is a mixture of mechanical engineering and industrial chemistry courses.


Harry A. Curtis, the chief chemical engineer at the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), impresses upon UT President James B. Hoskins the importance of establishing a chemical engineering program at UT, reportedly saying, “Mr. President, you offer a chemical engineering program, but I would not hire any of its graduates.” Hoskins and Curtis agree that TVA will pay half the salary of a chemical engineering professor at UT who will work part-time for the agency.

Field showing the results of TVA's fertilizer versus the same crop without the fertilizer.

Field shows results of TVA fertilizer


Graduate work in chemical engineering is initiated, leading to the degree of Master of Science. Research in support of the TVA fertilizer development program is funded by TVA and facilitated by a well-equipped machine shop supervised by E.H. Honeycutt (known as “Chief”) with salary initially partially supported by TVA.


The UT Board of Trustees approves the establishment of the Department of Chemical Engineering (ChE) at UT within the College of Engineering, initially housed in Estabrook Hall.

Estabrook Hall, 1898.

Estabrook Hall


The first group of chemical engineering students graduate. The chemical engineering program is accredited by the Engineers’ Council for Professional Development (ECPD) and the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE), making it one of the first four chemical engineering programs in the South to receive accreditation; the other three are Georgia Tech, Louisiana State University, and Virginia Polytechnic Institute.


Chemical engineering research at UT expands rapidly after World War II with the opening of the Atomic Energy Commission facilities at Oak Ridge to peacetime use. New, research-oriented faculty are hired, including H.J. Garber, H.F. Johnson, S.J. Jury, and F.N. Peebles in chemical engineering and E.E. Stansbury and W.O. Harms in metallurgy.

Black and white photo of President Truman surrounded by several men as he signs the Atomic Energy Act of 1946.

President Harry S. Truman signs the Atomic Energy Act of 1946 establishing the US Atomic Energy Commission.


Metallurgy becomes an option in the chemical engineering program. Options are also offered in microbiology and nuclear processes.


The UT Board of Trustees approves PhD programs in chemical engineering and in metallurgy — the first engineering doctoral programs in Tennessee. The first chemical engineering PhD graduate, Frank Chance, spent his professional career with Pfizer.


The department’s name is changed to the Department of Chemical and Metallurgical Engineering, offering separate degree programs in chemical engineering and metallurgical engineering. The microbiology option previously had been discontinued because the key faculty member, jointly appointed in chemical engineering and microbiology, had taken an industrial position.


Chemical engineering work in nuclear processes is transferred to a new Department of Nuclear Engineering.


The department obtains a sophisticated electronic analog computer through an industrial grant, providing support for instruction and research. Research in the area of process dynamics and control is initiated by John W. Prados with support from ORNL and later expanded by Charles F. Moore, who joins the department in 1969 when Prados leaves to accept an administrative appointment.

Following Boarts’ sudden death, Homer F. Johnson is named department head. During his 24-year tenure, chemical engineering grows from six professors to one of the larger departments in the engineering college.

Black and white photo of Homer Johnson and Watley.

Homer Johnson, left


The department moves into new space in the Dougherty Engineering Building.


Masters and doctoral programs in polymer engineering are added in the department, led by James L. White in cooperation with professors Don Bogue, E.S. Clark, and J.F. Fellers. The department’s name is changed to the Department of Chemical, Metallurgical and Polymer Engineering.

James White and Don Bogue.

Chemical engineering professors James White, left, and Don Bogue.


Charles Moore develops a relationship with Eastman Chemical that leads to a senior process control internship that is still continuing today.


Johnson retires and the department is split, with poly and metallurgical engineering now offered in the new Department of Materials Science and Engineering (MSE). Joseph J. Perona is named head of the Department of Chemical Engineering, and Joseph E. Spruiell, educated as a metallurgist but contributing to the polymer engineering program, is named head of MSE.


John Prados succeeds Perona as Department Head of Chemical Engineering.


With support from DuPont, Robert M. Counce and Professor Emeritus John M. Holmes establish a capstone design internship program focused on pollution prevention. The program continues to the present with support from the DuPont, Dow Chemical, Eastman Chemical, and Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL).


Mike Harris, a research engineer at ORNL, is the first African American to receive a PhD in chemical engineering at UT.


Prados returns to full-time faculty service and is succeeded by Charles Moore as department head.

Charles Moore sits at a computer.

Charles Moore


The Science and Engineering Research Facility is dedicated; several ChE faculty members move in to new lab spaces.


Moore returns to full-time faculty service and is replaced by John R. Collier from Louisiana State University, the first chemical engineering department head who had not previously served as a UT faculty member.


Collier accepts a position at Florida State University and is replaced as department head by Bamin Khomami from Washington University at St. Louis. Khomami is also named the Armour T. Granger and Alvin and Sally Beaman Distinguished University Professor.


The chemical engineering academic unit is renamed the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering (CBE) to reflect changes in the department’s academic and research missions.

Paul Frymier with a student in a lab.

Professor Paul Frymier instructs a student in a laboratory.


CBE establishes the Sustainable Technology through Advanced Interdisciplinary Research (STAIR) program, funded through a grant from the National Science Foundation.


Thomas Zawodzinski, an internationally recognized leader in the field of fuel cells, joins the department as its first UT-ORNL Governor’s Chair in Electrical Energy Storage.


John Prados is honored with the college’s Nathan W. Dougherty award and a professorship is established in his name.

John Prados accepts the Nathan Dougherty Award from Dean Wayne Davis.

John Prados, left, accepts the Dougherty Award from Dean Wayne Davis.

A team of college faculty and administrators, including nuclear engineering professor Wes Hines, CBE department head Bamin Khomami, and MABE department head Bill Hamel are awarded a $1.8 million grant from the National Science Foundation to fund the construction of state-of-the-art research labs in the Dougherty Engineering Building.


The department celebrates its 75th anniversary.