Neal R. Amundson
The information listed below is current as of the date the transcript was finalized.
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.
|1937||University of Minnesota||BA||Chemical Engineering|
|1941||University of Minnesota||MS||Chemical Engineering|
|1945||University of Minnesota||PhD||Mathematics|
Standard Oil Company of New Jersey
University of Minnesota
University of Houston
|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
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
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.
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.
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.
Faculty at University of Minnesota. High-standards in selection process. Relationship with Chemistry Department. Introducing computers. Leaving the University. Going to University of Houston.
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 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.