Monday 24 November 2014 - The Chemical Engineer... news and jobs from the chemical, biochemical and process engineering sectors

Chemical engineers who changed the world

Here we profile the historic achievements of chemical engineers who quite literally changed the world. From the Haber and Bosch process that now ‘feeds’ mankind to the lithium ion battery that powers the mobile devices that connect us all, chemical and process engineering has impacted the lives of everyone. Select a process or product from the quick links below, or scroll further down the page to discover who and how:


Aluminium | Air separation | Bakelite | CFCs | Contraceptive pill | Chromatography | Disposable nappies | Fluid catalytics cracking | Fuel cell | Haber-Bosch process | Hampson-Linde cycle | HPLC | Industrial gases | LCD | Leaded petrol | Liquefaction | Lithium ion batteries | Penicillin | Platforming | Polyethylene | Post-it notes | Process safety | PVC | Soda | Steel | Sugar | Synthetic fertilisers | Unit operations


1600s

Johann Glauber

John GlauberFamed alchemist and proto-chemical engineer.

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1700s

Nicholas Leblanc

Nicholas LeblancBroke ground as the first person to produce soda at industrial scale and laid the foundation for much of today’s modern chemicals industry.

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1800s

Charles Edward and Norbert Rillieux

Charles Howard and Norbert RillieuxProcess developers whose array of inventions are still used by industry today.

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Henry Bessemer

Henry BessemerHis process to mass produce steal earns him the title ‘Father of the Industrial Revolution’.

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Paul Héroult and Charles Hall

Paul Heroult and Charles HallSeparately, and together, they transformed aluminium from a metal more valuable than gold to today’s throwaway commodity.

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Carl von Linde and William Hampson

Carl Von Linde and William HampsonThese two liquefied the air, giving rise to the modern industrial gases industry and paved the way for the discovery of several rare gases.

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1900s

George E Davis

George E DavisA founding father of modern chemical engineering and IChemE.

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Fritz Haber & Carl Bosch

Fritz Haber and Carl BoschWorked out how to capture nitrogen from the air and convert it to ammonia – and in doing so, created the world-famous process that feeds the world.

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Leo Hendrik Baekeland

Leo Hendrik BaekelandThe inventor of Bakelite, whose work ushered in the Age of Polymers.

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Arthur D Little

Arthur D LittleFounder of the term ‘unit operation’ which underpins the modern application of all chemical engineering.

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Thomas Midgley

Thomas Midgley - ozone layerThe unfortunate inventor of CFCs and leaded petrol is thought to have had more impact on the Earth’s atmosphere than any other single organism in Earth’s history.

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Waldo Semon

Waldo SemonDeveloped PVC, the world’s second most-produced plastic after polyethylene.

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Dermot Manning and colleagues at ICI

Dermot ManningInventors of polyethylene, the ever-present plastic found in the pipes, bubble wrap and Tupperware that make all of our lives just that little bit easier.

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Donald Campbell and colleagues at Standard Oil

Donald CampbellInvented the workhorse of the refining industry, fluid catalytic cracking, and bolstered crude oil as the lifeblood of modern society.

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Dudley Maurice Newitt

Dudley Maurice-NewittA developer of spy gadgetry and the real-life inspiration for James Bond’s Q.

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Magnus von Braun

Magnus Von BraunA key player in Nazi Germany’s development of rocket technology.

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Jasper Kane and John McKeen of Pfizer

Jasper Kane and John McKeenTogether they took penicillin from Alexander Fleming’s Petri dish and worked out how to grow it at scale, giving Allied soldiers a key advantage during a crucial stage of World War II.

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Vladimir Haensel

Vladimir HaenselWhose platinum reforming, or platforming process, opened the door to today’s modern combustion engines.

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Andrew Grove

Andrew GroveRags to riches pioneer who helped usher in the computer age with engineering and business leadership at Intel.

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George Rosenkranz and colleagues

George RosenkranzSynthesised progesterone, later used in the contraceptive pill, which in turn has given women greater freedom to choose when they have children.

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Francis Bacon

Francis BaconFather of the hydrogen fuel cell who President Nixon praised for making the US moon landings possible.

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Trevor Kletz

Trevor KletzA giant in the field of loss prevention; the father of inherent safety.

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Victor Mills

Victor MillsA legend at P&G who developed a number of iconic products, from Pampers to Pringles.

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Lewis Urry

Lewis UrryRevolutionised the world of hand-held electronics with the invention of the alkaline battery

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Csaba Horváth

Csaba HorvathHis development of high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) has improved drug development, crime scene investigation and environmental monitoring.

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Tomio Wada

Tomio WadaKey developer of the LCD screen, and spiritual grandfather of all of today’s pocket electronics.

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Bob Gore

Bob GoreWhose ‘furious yank’ led to the accidental development of Gore-Tex.

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Jay Bailey

Jay BaileyA bio-pioneer who shrank chemical engineering to the cellular level.

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Spencer Silver and Arthur Fry of 3M

Inventors of the humble yet ubiquitous Post-it Note.

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Jack Welch

Jack WelchFormer CEO of General Electric and a pioneer of modern business tenets.

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Yoshio Nishi

Yoshio NishiThe Sony engineer who led the development of the omnipresent lithium ion battery.

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