Famous Chemical Engineers that Changed the world

The Engineer's Perspective
The Engineer's Perspective

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Chemical Engineering is considered the most the most complex, yet most versatile discipline of engineering. It applies the scientific principles of thermodynamics, physical chemistry, momentum, heat, and mass transfer, chemical process industries, and other elective courses in food & beverage, biotechnology, energy, management, safety, and environment.

How Has Chemical Engineering Changed The World?

Chemical engineers are heavily involved in industrial processes at every step of the way from raw materials to end products. They are responsible for ensuring process parameters are at their optimum conditions to deliver high-quality products to consumers.

Chemical engineering is a holistic discipline, hence, chemical engineers can be found working in every industry. Check out this article to find out if chemical engineering is right for you!.

Famous Chemical Engineers Changed The World
May 2021 Data from U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Founding Contributors To Chemical Engineering

Here are some of the famous chemical engineers that have left their legacies, and are continuing to make an impact on the world:

  • George E. Davis
  • Arthur D. Little
  • John H. Perry
  • Elmer L. Gaden, Jr.
  • Linus Pauling
  • Jack Steinberger
  • Frances Arnold
  • Victor Mills
  • Erik Rotheim
  • Lewis Urry
  • Francis Bacon
  • Robert Langer
  • Margaret Hutchinson Rousseau
  • Beatrice Hicks
  • Mae Jemison
  • Lilia Ann Abron

George E. Davis (1850-1907)

Famous Chemical Engineer George E. Davis
Source: Wikipedia

The first chemical engineer was George E. Davis — the ‘Father of Chemical Engineering’. Aside from coining the term ‘chemical engineering’, he also designed the first course in chemical engineering in 12 lectures at the University of Manchester. 

Arthur D. Little (1863-1935)

Source: Wikipedia

Arthur Dehon Little, an American chemist and chemical engineer, is eternally honored for introducing the concept of ‘unit operations’. His immense contribution paved the way for the development of the chemical engineering course at MIT in 1920. 

He is also one of the key founding members of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE) in 1908. Indeed, he is more than his namesake management consulting firm

John H. Perry (1850-1920)

There are a handful of textbooks that chemical engineers around the world collectively recognize, but none will be more iconic than Perry’s Chemical Engineer’s Handbook. 

Famous Chemical Engineers John H. Perry
Source: Wikipedia

Commissioned by McGraw-Hill, John H. Perry was the original editor of the first 3 editions of the handbook. When he passed away, his son, Robert H. Perry, took over as editor for the 4th and 5th editions. However, when R. Perry passed away from a tragic accident, Donald W. Green took over, who was John H. Perry’s Ph.D. student. 

Currently, there are 9 editions of the handbook. Several years of collective knowledge passed on across different generations of chemical engineers around the world.

Elmer L. Gaden, Jr. (1923-2012)

Famous Chemical Engineers Elmer L. Gaden, Jr.
Source: National Academy of Engineering

A chemical engineer from the Columbia University, Gaden is known as the ‘Father of Biochemical Engineering’. He wrote a dissertation paper explaining the scientific process of penicillin production. After working shortly as a researcher at Pfizer, Inc., he spent the rest of his career as an educator at Columbia University — where he established the biochemical engineering program.

Nobel Prize Winning Chemical Engineers

Linus Pauling (1901-1994)

Famous Chemical Engineers Linus Pauling
Source: Wikipedia

Pauling is the only scientist to have received solely two Nobel Prizes:

  • A Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1954 for his work on the chemical bonding of the amino acid sequences, more commonly recognized as the alpha helix.
  • A Noble Peace Prize in 1962 for his anti-nuclear testing and arsenal efforts during the Cold War.

Aside from being a chemical engineer, Pauling is also a chemist, activist, and author.

Jack Steinberger (1921-2020)

Famous Chemical Engineer Jack Steinberger
Source: Wikipedia

Steinberger shared a Nobel Prize in Physics in 1988 with Melvin Schwartz and Leon Lederman, for their work on the first experiment that led to the discovery of muon neutrino. Although Steinberger is a chemist, he has also spent 2 years at Illinois University studying chemical engineering. 

Frances Arnold (1956-present)

Source: Wikipedia

Frances Arnold shared a Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2018 with George P. Smith and Sir Gregory P. Winter for their discovery of the direct evolution of enzymes. She holds a doctorate degree in chemical engineering from CalTech, where she holds the title — Linus Pauling Professor of Chemical Engineering, Bioengineering, and Biochemistry.

Victor Mills (1897-1997)

Famous Chemical Engineer Victor Mills
Source: Wikipedia

Victor Mills was the chemical engineer for Proctor & Gamble who invented Pampers, the first disposable diapers. Aside from that, he has also improved the company’s manufacturing processes for Ivory soap, Duncan Hines cake mixes, Jif peanut butter, and Pringles. 

For all his contributions, Proctor & Gamble created an honorary society for their engineers under his namesake — Victor Mills Society. 

Erik Rotheim (1898 - 1938)

Rotheim is a Norweigan chemical engineer who invented the first aerosol spray can in 1926 that can hold and dispense fluids. 

Famous Chemical Engineers Erik Rotheim Spraycan
Source: Wikipedia

It didn’t gain commercial popularity until the patent was sold to a U.S. company in the 1940s. His design was improved, particularly the spray head design, by new generations of innovators. 

Lewis Urry (1927 - 2004)

Urry was the Canadian chemical engineer who invented the alkaline and lithium batteries when he was working for Eveready. About 80% of dry-cell batteries around the world today were based on Urry’s groundbreaking contribution. 

Francis Bacon (1904 - 1992)

Source: Britannica

Francis Bacon is known as the ‘Father of Hydrogen Fuel Cell’ as he invented the fuel cell for the Apollo Moon Project in the 1960s. Today, hydrogen fuel cells are a good source of clean energy as we move towards a more sustainable world. 

Robert Langer (1948 - present)

Famous Chemical Engineer Robert Langer
Source: Wikipedia

With over 1,400 patents, Robert Langer is one of the most cited researchers for his contribution to the field of biotechnology. He was also awarded the Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering in 2016. He is an American chemical engineer and currently one of the 12 Institute Professors at MIT.

Empowered Female Chemical Engineers

According to Zippia’s database of 30 million profiles in 2021, there are 20,103 employed chemical engineers in the U.S. — only 25.9% of which are women. Despite being the minority, it didn’t stop the following female chemical engineers from succeeding in their careers.

Margaret Hutchinson Rousseau (1910 - 2000)

Famous Chemical Engineer Margaret Hutchinson Rousseau
Source: Wikipedia

Rousseau was the first woman with a doctorate degree in Chemical Engineering from MIT in 1937. She was also the first female member of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE). Most importantly, she designed the first commercial penicillin production plant. 

Beatrice Hicks (1919 - 1979)

Famous Chemical Engineer Beatrice Hicks

Hicks was the first female chemical engineer in Western Electric Company. She’s not just a chemical engineer, but an electrical engineer and physicist as well. She co-founded the Society of Women Engineers in 1950 and soon became its first President. 

Mae Jemison (1956 - present)

Famous Chemical Engineer Mae Jemison

Mae Jemison is a chemical engineer from Stanford, a physician, and the first African-American woman in space on the Space Shuttle Endeavour in 1992. 

Lilia Ann Abron (1945 - present)

Famous Chemical Engineer Lilia Ann Abron

Abron was the first African American woman to earn a Ph.D. in chemical engineering in 1972 from the University of Iowa. Today, she dedicates her career to helping build energy-efficient homes in South Africa. 


Who are the famous CEO chemical engineers?

Since chemical engineers also learn about management, it wouldn’t be a surprise to know that they are also business leaders. Some role models are Roberto Goizeuta of Coca-Cola, David J. O’Reilly of Chevron, Andrew Grove of Intel, and Lee Raymond of ExxonMobil.

Who are the famous black chemical engineers?

The majority of the chemical engineers are White, followed by Asians, Hispanic/Latino, and then Black/African-American. Aside from Mae Jemison and Lilia Ann Abron, there is also Charles Pierce who is recognized as the first African-American chemical engineer in the U.S. 


  1. Illinois Tech. “Charles Pierce Recognized as First African-American Chemical Engineer in the United States.” Illinois Institute of Technology, 19 May 2014, https://www.iit.edu. Accessed 12 July 2022.
  2. Jansen, Richard. “Lewis Urry – A Powerful Man – Features.” The Chemical Engineer, 26 January 2018, https://www.thechemicalengineer.com. Accessed 11 July 2022.
  3. MIT. “Professor Robert S. Langer – Langer Lab.” Langer Lab, https://langerlab.mit.edu. Accessed 11 July 2022.
  4. The Nobel Prize. “Frances H. Arnold – Facts – 2018 – NobelPrize.org.” The Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2018, https://www.nobelprize.org. Accessed 11 July 2022.
  5. The Nobel Prize. “Jack Steinberger – Biographical – NobelPrize.org.” The Nobel Prize In Physics 1988, https://www.nobelprize.org. Accessed 11 July 2022.
  6. Oregon State University. “Linus Pauling Biography | Linus Pauling Institute | Oregon State University.” Linus Pauling Institute, https://lpi.oregonstate.edu. Accessed 11 July 2022.

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