Department History

The beginning of chemical engineering education at large is usually attributed to M.I.T. where the first course in chemical engineering was offered in 1888. 

Chemical Engineering at The Ohio State University traces its roots back over 100 years.  Offered initially as a “B.S. in Chemistry from the College of Engineering,” the first degree was awarded to Samuel Vernon Peppel in 1899. 

Beginning with the 1902-1903 University Bulletin, The Outline of the Course in Chemical Engineering was listed for the first time. In 1904 the name of the degree changed to “Bachelor of Science in Chemical Engineering.” Its first two recipients were Arno Fieldner and Lewis Benjamin Case. The first M.Sc. was issued in 1910 to Orlando Sweeney, the first Ph.D.s in 1918 to Herbert Spencer Coith and James Howard Young. Helen S. Crooks was the first female baccalaureate (1923) and Yun Hao Feng (M.S. '28)  was the first woman in the United States to receive a Ph.D. (1931) in chemical engineering. The chemical engineering program at Ohio State was also the first in the nation to graduate an African American Ph.D. (Harry Green, ’32 B.S., ‘43 Ph.D.)

in 2003, the Department of Chemical Engineering celebrated its 100th anniversary. Learn more about the history of the department in this video made to commemorate the department's achievements. (Note: this video does not have closed captions).

Below, Ed Slowter reminisces about the department (closed captions are available).




From 1902 to 1924, chemical engineering was a division of the chemistry department, a common practice among universities at that time. The first chairman of the Department of Chemical Engineering was Dr. James Withrow, who headed the division until 1924 when the division became the Department of Chemical Engineering.  In 1925, the department became one of the first 10 schools to be accredited by the American Institute of Chemical Engineers. Dr. Withrow continued to serve as department chair until 1948.

Dr. Withrow was succeeded by Joe Koffolt (1948). Dr. Koffolt was a beloved father figure who was fiercely devoted to all of his students, whom he referred to as "jewels." When he died in 1977, he left behind a vast legacy: a vanguard of over 1,400 of "Joe's Jewels" went on to transform the problems of society into solutions for the betterment of mankind -- a tradition our students carry on today.

Dr. Koffolt was succeeded by Al Syverson (1968), Ed Haerring (1976), Jacques Zakin (1977), L.S. Fan (1994), Stuart Cooper (2004), Andre Palmer (2014), and Umit Ozkan (2019).


Since its inception, Ohio State's department of chemical engineering has occupied a number of facilities, the first of which burned down shortly after the creation of the department.

Later facilities included “Chemistry Building #3” (later renamed Derby Hall), and the saw-tooth-roofed, industrial section (now demolished) of MacPherson Hall (in 1925).


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Professsor Bob Brodkey (with camera) at the 1958 groundbreaking

Groundbreaking for the first building constructed exclusively for use by chemical engineering, located on W. 19th Avenue, took place in 1958. The building was later renamed Koffolt Laboratories to honor Dr. Joseph H. Koffolt, the department chair from 1948-1968.

​In 2012 groundbreaking took place for the new Koffolt Laboratories located at 151 W. Woodruff Avenue. From conception to construction, new Koffolt Laboratories took over ten years to complete, but was well worth the effort. It now offers students and faculty a first-rate experience in learning, research, and community. New Koffolt Laboratories opened in Winter 2015, thanks to alumnus William G. Lowrie and hundreds of loyal alumni.

The facility still carries the name "Koffolt Laboratories" in honor of Joe Koffolt, but in recognition of Mr. Lowrie's extraordinary dedication to Ohio State Chemical Engineering, the department itself was named the William G. Lowrie Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, becoming the first named department at Ohio State.