Norman N. Li

Born: January 14, 1933 | Shanghai, CN

Norman Li discusses his early life in China and Taiwan, as well as his education, which included a bachelor's degree in chemical engineering from National Taiwan University as well as an M.S. from Wayne State University and a Ph.D. from Stevens Institute of Technology. Li reflects on his career in industry, including his time at Exxon Research and Engineering Company, where he received a combined total of 44 patents on either hydrocarbon separations or facilitated transport. Li also discusses his move to research administration and the future of chemical R&D. 

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Interview Details

Interview no.: Oral History 0195
No. of pages: 39
Minutes: 155

Interview Sessions

James G. Traynham
5 May 2000
Mount Prospect, Illinois

Abstract of Interview

Norman Li begins the interview with a description of his family and childhood years in Fuzhou, China. After World War II, Li's family moved to Taiwan, where Li completed high school. Li then attended National Taiwan University, majoring in chemical engineering. He received his B.A. in 1954. Li's father encouraged him to further his education in the United States. Li attended Wayne State University, where he benefited from the care, support, and assurance of Professor Harold Donnelly. He received his M.S. in chemical engineering in 1957 and then attended Stevens Institute of Technology, receiving his PhD in 1963. Li accepted a position in the Process Division of Exxon Research and Engineering Company. Early in his career at Exxon, Li began thinking about liquid-membrane technology and applications. While with Exxon, Li received a combined total of 44 patents on either hydrocarbon separations or facilitated transport. Li was approached by Mary Good about a new career opportunity at UOP Co. After much deliberation, Li decided to make the move from research to research administration, becoming Director of Separation Science and Technology at UOP in 1981. As soon as he arrived at UOP, Li wrote a proposal that established a liquid-membrane research program. Li left UOP in 1988, joining Mary Good at Allied Signal Co. In 1995, Li decided to “retire” from Allied Signal and establish his own consulting firm, NL Chemical Technology, Inc. Li concludes the interview with a discussion of the future of chemical R&D, reflections on winning the Perkin Medal, and thoughts on his family. 

Education

Year Institution Degree Discipline
1954 National Taiwan University BA Chemical Engineering
1957 Wayne State University MS Chemical Engineering
1963 Stevens Institute of Technology PhD Chemical Engineering

Professional Experience

Exxon Research and Engineering Company

1963 to 1981
Senior Research Scientist

Universal Oil Products Company

1981 to 1988
Director of Separation Science and Technology

AlliedSignal

1988 to 1995
Director of Research and Technology

N L Chemical Technology, Inc.

1995 to 2001
Chief Executive Officer

Honors

Year(s) Award
1980

Chairman, Industrial and Engineering Chemistry Division, American Chemical Society

1988

Alpha Chi Sigma Award for Chemical Engineering Research, American Institute of Chemical Engineers

1988

Separation Science and Technology Award, American Chemical Society

1989

Fellow, American Institute of Chemical Engineers

1990

Member, National Academy of Engineering

1992

Director, American Institute of Chemical Engineers

1995

Special Symposium in Honor of Dr. N. N. Li, American Institute of Chemical Engineers

1995

Ernest W. Thiel Award, American Institute of Chemical Engineers

1996

Member, Acedemis Sinica

1998

Member, Chinese Academy of Sciences

2000

Perkin Medal, Society of Chemical Industry (American Section)

2000

Chemical Engineering Practice Award, American Institute of Chemical Engineers

2000

Special Symposium in Honor of Dr. N. N. Li, American Institute of Chemical Engineers

2001

Fujimura Award for Lifetime Achievement in International Technology Cooperation and Development, American Institute of Chemical Engineers and World Congress of Chemical Engineering, Melbourne, Australia

Table of Contents

Early Years
1

Childhood in China. Parents. Siblings. Moving to Taiwan. Decision to study science. Attending National Taiwan University.

Graduate Education
5

Coming to United States. Attending Wayne State University. Professor Harold Donnelly. Parke-Davis. Stevens Institute of Technology. Instructorship at Stevens.

Early Career
7

Exxon Research and Engineering Company. Lube oil processing. Marriage in 1963. Liquid membranes. Don Baeder. Facilitated transport. Artificial kidney.

Career Changes
16

Mary L. Good. Interview at UOP Co. Move to UOP Co. in research administration. Children. Proposal for development of liquid membrane research program. Reverse osmosis membrane. Sorbex System. Move to Allied Signal Company. Retirement from Allied Signal. Establishment of consulting business.

Conclusion
28

Experiences with Exxon, UOP, and Allied. Future of R&D. Winning Perkin Medal. National Academy of Engineering. Thoughts on family.

Index
36

About the Interviewer

James G. Traynham

James G. Traynham is a professor of chemistry at Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge. He holds a PhD in organic chemistry from Northwestern University. He joined Louisiana State University in 1953 and served as chemistry department chairperson from 1968 to 1973. He was chairman of the American Chemical Society’s Division of the History of Chemistry in 1988 and is currently councilor of the Baton Rouge section of the American Chemical Society. He was a member of the American Chemical Society’s Joint-Board Council on Chemistry and Public Affairs, as well as a member of the Society’s Committees on Science, Chemical Education, and Organic Chemistry Nomenclature. He has written over 90 publications, including a book on organic nomenclature and a book on the history of organic chemistry.