Neal R. Amundson

Born: January 10, 1916 | St. Paul, MN, US
Died: February 16, 2011 | Houston, TX, US
Photograph of Neal R. Amundson

Neal Amundson worked as a process control engineer for Exxon, then for Standard Oil Company of New Jersey. In 1947, he became a professor in the University of Minnestoa’s chemical engineering department. By 1951, at just age thirty-five, Amundson held the positions of department chair and professor; he worked on heat transfer, chromatography, and adsorption. In 1977, Amundson left the University of Minnesota and became the Cullen Professor of Chemical Engineering at the University of Houston.

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Interview Details

Interview no.: Oral History 0084
No. of pages: 46
Minutes: 203

Interview Sessions

James J. Bohning
24 October 1990
University of Houston

Abstract of Interview

Neal Amundson begins the interview with a discussion of his family and early years in St. Paul, Minnesota. Amundson graduated from high school at the very depth of the Depression. For the Amundson family, times were very grim, yet Amundson’s parents insisted on sending their son to college. Amundson attended the University of Minnesota, where he received his BA in chemical engineering in 1937. Immediately after graduation, Amundson accepted a position with Exxon, then Standard Oil Company of New Jersey, as a process control engineer. There he worked on controlling phenol loss in Exxon’s process for lubricating oil.  After nearly two years with Standard Oil, Amundson returned to the University of Minnesota. While working toward his MS in chemical engineering, Amundson served as a teaching assistant in the mathematics department.  After receiving his M.S. in 1941, Amundson decided to switch his educational focus and received his PhD. in mathematics in 1945. Amundson stayed at the University of Minnesota as an assistant professor of mathematics.  In 1947, he transferred to the University’s chemical engineering department and became an associate professor. In 1949, Dean Athelstan F. Spilhaus offered Amundson the position of acting chair of the chemical engineering department. That same year, Amundson became a full professor with the University. In 1951, at just age thirty-five, Amundson held the positions of department chair and professor at the University. Amundson’s research work focused on heat transfer, chromatography, and adsorption. Although he was chair of chemical engineering, Amundson was first a mathematician. As a result, he structured the chemical engineering department on a more theoretical level, hiring faculty that held mathematical interests and initiating mathematical applications into a practical engineering curriculum. The strength of the faculty that Amundson assembled helped build a solid reputation for the University of Minnesota.  By the late 1940s and early 1950s, Amundson introduced computers into his curriculum. In 1977, Amundson left the University of Minnesota and became the Cullen Professor of Chemical Engineering at the University of Houston, a position he holds today. Amundson concludes the interview with a discussion of his consulting work, the success of students, and thoughts on his career decisions. 


Year Institution Degree Discipline
1937 University of Minnesota BA Chemical Engineering
1941 University of Minnesota MS Chemical Engineering
1945 University of Minnesota PhD Mathematics

Professional Experience

Standard Oil Company of New Jersey

1937 to 1939
Process Engineer

University of Minnesota

1939 to 1947
T.A. Instructor, Assistant Professor, Department of Mathematics
1947 to 1951
Associate Professor, Department of Chemical Engineering
1949 to 1977
Head, Department of Chemical Engineering
1951 to 1967
Professor, Department of Chemical Engineering
1967 to 1977
Regents’ Professor, Department of Chemical Engineering

University of Houston

1977 to 1982
Cullen Professor of Chemical Engineering
1982 to 1992
Cullen Professor of Chemical Engineering and Professor of Mathematics
1987 to 1989
Vice President


Year(s) Award
1954 to 1955

Fulbright Scholar, Cambridge University, England


Guggenheim Fellow, Cambridge University, England


Industrial and Engineering Chemistry Award, ACS


William H. Walker Award, AIChE


National Academy of Engineering


Vincent Bendix Award, American Society of Engineering Education


Fellow, AIChE


Warren K. Lewis Award, AIChE


Richard H. Wilhelm Award, AIChE


Guggenheim Fellow, NATO Senior Fellow


Sc.D. (Honoris Causa), University of Minnesota


Founders Award, AIChE


Eng. D. (Honoris Causa), University of Notre Dame


Albert Einstein Award, Computing and Modelling Association

Table of Contents

Early Years

Parents. Growing up in St. Paul, Minnesota. Influence of high-school teachers. The Depression. Attending the University of Minnesota. Textbooks. Chemical Engineering Department. Role models and mentors.

Education and Career Beginnings

Desire to get a job. Working for Standard Oil (Exxon). Process control. Decision to return to school. Graduate focus on mathematics. Working as a teaching assistant. Hugh Turrittin. Desire to join U. S. Navy. Overcoming speech impediment. Five months at Brown University. Ph.D. dissertation.

Career in Education

Staying at University of Minnesota as an Assistant Professor of mathematics. Athelstan F. Spilhaus. Becoming Acting Chair of Chemical Engineering Department. Connection with Chemistry Department. Heat transfer research. Irving Klotz. Mathematics in engineering. Shaping Chemical Engineering Department.

University Environment

Faculty at University of Minnesota. High-standards in selection process. Relationship with Chemistry Department. Introducing computers. Leaving the University. Going to University of Houston.

Final Thoughts

Consulting work. Finding financial support in academia. Success of students. Changes in teaching profession. Reflections on career. Future of University development.


About the Interviewer

James J. Bohning

James J. Bohning was professor emeritus of chemistry at Wilkes University, where he had been a faculty member from 1959 to 1990. He served there as chemistry department chair from 1970 to 1986 and environmental science department chair from 1987 to 1990. Bohning was chair of the American Chemical Society’s Division of the History of Chemistry in 1986; he received the division’s Outstanding Paper Award in 1989 and presented more than forty papers at national meetings of the society. Bohning was on the advisory committee of the society’s National Historic Chemical Landmarks Program from its inception in 1992 through 2001 and is currently a consultant to the committee. He developed the oral history program of the Chemical Heritage Foundation, and he was CHF’s director of oral history from 1990 to 1995. From 1995 to 1998, Bohning was a science writer for the News Service group of the American Chemical Society. In May 2005, he received the Joseph Priestley Service Award from the Susquehanna Valley Section of the American Chemical Society.  Bohning passed away in September 2011.