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Message from Department Chair

A message from our department chair

July 2013

On behalf of our faculty and staff, welcome to the Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering Department at the UCLA Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science.

This is a wonderful time to be a chemical and biomolecular engineer, as our profession is prepared to solve the most pressing problems facing the world, namely in the areas of energy, the environment, and healthcare.

The field of chemical engineering traditionally lies at the nexus of physics, chemistry, and mathematics. Chemical Engineers created the first revolution of chemical technology in the early 20th century. As an example, the Habor-Bosch process, invented by the German chemical engineers in the 1900’s for artificial nitrogen fixation, solved the food shortage problem in the early 20th century and enabled the growth of the world population from 1 to 7 billion. The process is still being used today to synthesize fertilizers for the production of food and biofuels. This historical example demonstrates the profound impact made by the chemical engineering profession.

Another long-lasting problem of societal importance is the protection of the environment, such as ensuring the quality of our water and air.  In the 1950’s to 1960’s, a group of chemical engineers here at UCLA played a key role in the development of reverse osmosis, which is still being used today for water purification.  The development of the first asymmetric cellulose acetate membrane at UCLA was a significant discovery that demonstrated the large scale commercial viability of reverse osmosis to produce fresh water from brackish water and sea water. 

In addition, in the 1970’s and 1980’s, UCLA chemical engineers pioneered the catalytic air pollution control of exhaust emissions from automotive and stationary sources. During the 1980’s and 1990’s, UCLA chemical engineers established the theory of aerosol formation and developed ways for its control. These innovative breakthroughs established a strong foundation for the chemical engineering profession as well as for our department at UCLA.

As we entered the 21st century, the field expanded significantly into the arena of biotechnology and has included biology as one of the fundamental pillars of the field. In addition to chemical and physical methods, we now harness nature’s biological capability as a tool to provide vital solutions to the sustainable production of fuels, chemicals, and pharmaceuticals, the protection of the environment, and the development of better healthcare solutions.

The expansion of the field into biotechnology prompted the change of our departmental name to Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering in 2005. In additional to the core chemical engineering curriculum, undergraduates now have options to study a specialized path, including semiconductor manufacturing, for students planning to enter the microelectronics industry; environmental chemical engineering, for those who are passionate about environmentally friendly and sustainable technologies, and  biomolecular engineering, for students with an interest in biotechnology.  Students also have ample opportunities to learn from and to conduct research alongside eminent UCLA faculty conducting cutting-edge research.

Today, the faculty of our department has world-renowned strengths in multiple areas, including biological synthesis of chemicals, pharmaceuticals, and biomaterials, water treatment, semiconductor materials processing, alternative energy, and nanotechnology. Our faculty has already developed novel approaches for drug delivery, designed smart water purification systems, perfected next-generation technology for microelectronics processing, invented novel battery designs, accomplished molecular-level processing, developed combinatorial methods for catalyst discovery, and advanced mathematical theories and computational methods for solving large scale problems.  

Our faculty includes one Nobel Laureate, two Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge Awardees, and numerous winners of professional society awards such as those from the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE) and the American Chemical Society (ACS).  Our department has participated in solving critical problems in the past, and is poised to make even more significant contributions by continuing to conduct world-class research and educating highly motivated and exceptionally talented UCLA students.

Please take a few moments to browse our Web site and to learn more about our curricula, research activities, and current events.

Sincerely,

James C. Liao
Ralph M. Parsons Foundation Professor and Chair

Liao_Department_Chair