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Chemical Engineering : 1930's

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Thomas H. Chilton (1899-1972) led DuPont’s research in chemical engineering through his 34-year career with the company. He earned his chemical engineering degree at Columbia University in 1922, worked as a chemist in New York City, and joined DuPont in 1925. Chilton’s career began just after chemical engineering had established itself as an independent academic and professional discipline.

In June 1929 Charles M.A. Stine, DuPont’s Research Director, selected Chilton to head a chemical engineering research group called the Development Engineering Division of DuPont’s Engineering Department. Chilton and a colleague at DuPont, Allan P. Colburn, became known for the Chilton-Colburn analogy, in which some hard-to-measure operations could be understood as analogous to other, more readily measured operations. The concept became a fundamental principle of chemical engineering.

Aided by computers and mathematical modeling, Chilton and other chemical engineers in the 1950s moved beyond unit operations to a more fundamental understanding of basic chemical phenomena such as heat and momentum. Chilton served as President of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers in 1951 and was awarded Columbia University’s Chandler Medal for his work on the principles underlying unit operations. He retired from DuPont in 1959 and was awarded DuPont’s Lavoisier Medal posthumously for his many research accomplishments in chemical engineering.

Allan P. Colburn (1904-1955) helped DuPont build its Chemical Engineering Research Department; he also helped the company forge a strong relationship with the academic community through his work at the University of Delaware. Colburn received a Ph.D. in chemical engineering from the University of Wisconsin in 1929, one of only 20 Americans to earn their doctorates in this new field that year. By recruiting Colburn, Stine sought to broaden the company’s basic research capability. As a member of that group, Colburn won the first Walker Award of the American Institute of Chemical Engineering (AIChE) for his experiments with heat transfer and energy flow.

As one of the founders of the University of Delaware’s chemical engineering graduate program and as a leader of his profession in the 1930s, Colburn fostered a strong relationship between DuPont and the University. He served as the University’s Acting President in 1950 and as Provost and Coordinator of Scientific Research until his death in 1955. The naming of several awards memorialized him, including the Allan P. Colburn Award for Excellence in Publications by a Young Member of the AIChE, sponsored by DuPont. The Colburn Laboratory at the University of Delaware also stands as a tribute to his work.

 

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