A short history of the department
by Thomas W. Weber
Where did SUNY, UB, and the department come from?
UB was actually founded in 1846 as a school of medicine and then
grew to become a sizeable university. The State University of
New York at Buffalo was established in 1948, and UB was merged
into SUNY in 1962. In those days, tuition was a mere $500 a year
for undergraduates and $700 a year for graduate students. Joe
Bergantz, a local consultant with considerable research and development
experience in industry, was hired part-time to design a Chemical
Engineering program for the School of Engineering. An outgrowth
of this was the hiring of Don Brutvan, who became the first full-time
faculty member in the Spring of 1961. In May, a formal announcement
of our B.S. and M.S. programs was made. Joe came on as a full-time
Professor and Chair, and Bill Mathewson, who had just completed
his Ph.D. at Cornell, was hired.
A new Chemical Engineering Building was to be built in the vicinity
of Parker Engineering Building on the Main Street Campus. An architect
drew up some beautiful plans for a 66,000 square-foot building
with laboratories and classrooms. Earliest occupancy was planned
for the middle of 1964. (As it turned out, the building was nothing
more than a dream.)
The Department's first full year of operation was 1961-62. Joe,
Don, and Bill taught several courses to about 40 part-time graduate
students. Ray Ewell, the Vice Chancellor for Research at UB, taught
a special course in thermodynamics. In the second year, new sophomore
and junior courses were offered to undergraduates and a Ph.D.
program was authorized. I was hired in January of 1963 to cover
the newly emerging area of Process Control. I taught that course
and the advanced mathematics course for graduate students in Chemical
Engineering. It was a real test of endurance and a challenge to
keep people awake on Tuesday and Thursday evenings. I would teach
one of the courses from about 6:30 to 8:00, and the other from
8:30 to 10:00.
In the Fall of 1963, Dave Johnston joined us from the University
of California. Our Graduate Program consisted of three evening
courses that semester. Dave taught the course in Advanced Mathematics,
Don gave a course in Phase Equilibria and Staged Operations, and
I taught Transport Phenomena using a new book by Bird, Stewart,
and Lightfoot. We were beginning to teach some undergraduate day
courses as well. Each of us taught two courses each semester,
and in most cases they were new ones which we had never taught
before. We expected that we would finally graduate two M.S. and
five B.S. students by the Fall of 1964.
Dave Johnston stayed on for only a year and then decided to go
to divinity school -- sounds a bit unusual, but Dave's father
was a minister. Bill Mathewson left to seek his fortunes in industry.
Three new faculty joined in 1964, namely Ken Kiser, Harry Cullinan,
and Bob Good. Sol Weller came on the next year. Most of the faculty
were in Parker Engineering and a couple of us had offices and
labs in Acheson Chemistry. In 1966, we finally got our own building
-- not the one that an architect had drawn the plans for -- but
a pre-fabricated, metal-walled “Butler” building that was set
up between Acheson Chemistry and Parker Engineering. It housed
our departmental offices, a huge open-bay area in the center for
the Unit Operations Lab, Bob Heisler's shop, and small labs around
the periphery for graduate students. Aptly named the “Chemical
Engineering Building,” that building was a vibrant place! Some
of the faculty had their offices in another nearby pre-fab building,
Acheson Annex. Most of those offices were internal with no windows,
but some of the external offices didn't have windows either. The
Administration didn't want us to be distracted! One the Seniors
-- I think it was George DiPirro -- took pity on Ken Kiser. He
drew a picture for Ken to hang on his wall that showed what he
would have seen if he had had a window!
New faculty were added in 1966-67 -- Julian Szekely, Ken O'Driscoll,
Paul Ehrlich, and John Howell. In 1968, Joe went on a sabbatical
to England and Sol Weller stepped in as Acting Chair. Upon his
return, Joe became an Associate Dean and Harry Cullinan became
the Chair. When Harry went on sabbatical in 1972, Sol again served
as Acting Chair. In 1976, Joe unexpectedly passed away. Harry
left to become the Vice President of Academic Affairs at the Pulp
and Paper Institute in Appleton, Wisconsin. The Department was
then under Acting Chairs for two years -- first Sol Weller, and
then Ken Kiser. In the meantime, Bill Gill had joined the Engineering
School as Dean in 1971, Eli Ruckenstein came in 1973 and Mike
Ryan in 1976.
As we moved to the new campus in 1978, Jarda Ulbrecht arrived
from England to become Chair. Carel Van Oss from Microbiology
became an Adjunct member of the Department and has played an active
role in the Department since then. Ralph Yang joined the Department
shortly thereafter and Vladimir Hlavacek arrived in 1981. Jarda
went on a leave-of-absence in 1982 and I became Chairman, a position
I held for seven years.
Now we “fast-forward” to 1985. John Tsamopoulos joined us, and
the next year, Carl Lund. Bill Gill, who had stepped down as Dean
in 1976, left in 1987 to become Department Chair at R.P.I. In
1989, I was replaced as Chair by Ralph Yang. After six years,
he left to become Chair at the University of Michigan. Ken Kiser,
who had been Associate Dean of Engineering, returned to the Department
full-time as Chair until he retired in 1997.
Most of the current faculty have been hired since 1989: Dave
Kofke and Lakis Mountziaris in 1989, Johannes Nitsche and Scott
Diamond (now at the U. of Pennsylvania) in 1990,
Ashish Gupta, Paschalis Alexandridis, and Sriram Neelamegham in
1997, Stylianos Andreadis and Mark Swihart in 1998, Mattheos Koffas in 2003, and Manolis Tzanakakis in 2004.
Our first retirees were Don Brutvan and Sol Weller in 1989, followed by
Paul Ehrlich and Bob Good in 1991, Ken Kiser in 1997, Tom Weber in 2000, and Vladimir Hlavacek in 2009.
Don, Ken and Tom are still living in the area. Paul passed away in 2003, Sol in 2008, Bob and Vladimir in 2010.