Evolution of the Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering Department at UCLA

The history of the department can be traced back to 1950s, when UCLA offered a general BS degree in Engineering.  At that time, a large part of the first engineering building at UCLA was dedicated to Chemical Engineering laboratories at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. The physical facilities for the undergraduate program in Chemical Engineering were first rate.  L.M.K. Boelter who had California’s No. 1 professional license in Chemical Engineering served as the Dean of Engineering.

In 1969, the Energy and Kinetics Department was established. In 1976, the department name was changed to the Chemical, Nuclear and Thermal Engineering Department. In 1983, the Department of Chemical Engineering was officially established. This establishment marks the formal expansion of chemical engineering curriculum and research. In 2005, the department name was changed to the Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering Department to reflect the growing significance of life sciences and technologies in our profession.

First demonstration of Reverse Osmosis

UCLA made a significant breakthrough in 1959 and became the first to demonstrate a practical process known as reverse osmosis (RO). At that time, Samuel Yuster and two of his students, Sidney Loeb and Srinivasa Sourirajan, produced a functional synthetic RO membrane from cellulose acetate polymer. The new membrane was capable of rejecting salt and passing fresh water at reasonable flow rates and realistic pressures. The membrane was also durable, and could be cast in a variety of geometric configurations. The impact of this discovery has been felt worldwide, ranging from applications in home demineralizers to “rivers of fresh water” in the Middle East and North Africa, where desalination facilities produce trillions of gallons of pure water every day. About 60 percent of the world’s desalination capacity is located on the Arabian peninsula. After Yuster’s passing, the reverse osmosis project was then continued under the direction of faculty Joe McCutchan and Bennion.

Catalytic Air Pollution Control

In 1970 to 1990s Prof. Ken Nobe, a world-renowned scientist on our faculty, developed methods for catalytic air pollution control of exhaust emissions from automotive and stationary sources. Prof Nobe is also well known for his studies of electrochemical processes including kinetics and mechanisms of electrodissolution and electrodeposition, corrosion, electrochemical energy systems, and electrodeposited nano-sized high performance soft and hard magnetics. Professor Nobe is also the founding Chair of the Department of Chemical Engineering.

Aerosol research

In 1978,  Sheldon (“Shel”) K. Friedlander joined UCLA in 1978 and was a founding member and then Chair (1984-1988) of the Department. In 1982, he helped found the American Association for Aerosol Research (AAAR); and in 1997, AAAR established the Friedlander Award, recognizing an outstanding dissertation by a doctoral student in the field of aerosol science and technology. Shel’s devised a way to analyze the chemical makeup of smog particles. By doing so, he was able to unravel who or what (including power plants, automobiles and oil refineries) was contributing to air pollution at any given time. His enthusiasm for research carried over naturally to the classroom, and he created new courses in mass transfer, air pollution, nanoparticles, and aerosol technology. Shel also authored the classic text, Smoke, Dust and Haze: Fundamentals of Aerosol Dynamics, now in its second edition.