About the Department of Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering


The Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering (CBE) provides the opportunity for undergraduate and graduate students to obtain a thorough fundamental knowledge of all fields in chemical and biomolecular engineering.

In broad terms, research conducted in the Department can be divided into the following areas: catalysis and reaction engineering, electrochemical engineering, polymers and complex fluids, microsystems technology and microelectrics, molecular simulations and theory, interfacial engineering, biochemical and bioprocess engineering, biomedical engineering, and synthetic biology. The Department also collaborates with the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.


The appointment of the first Professor of Chemical Engineering in July of 1946 marked the administrative decision that ultimately led to the present chemical engineering program at Berkeley. As the university began to more fully recognize the importance of chemical engineering – especially through its contributions to the war effort in the development of the atomic bomb and in the petroleum and chemical industry—the need for a full-fledged program became apparent. Initially, considerable controversy developed as to whether the program should be in the College of Engineering or the College of Chemistry. For a while, this led to the amusing situation where Berkeley had two chemical engineering departments—one housed in the College of Engineering and the other in the College of Chemistry. The stronger program in the College of Chemistry ultimately prevailed.

Philip Schutz, a professor of chemical engineering at Columbia University, was selected to head the fledgling chemical engineering program. To assist him, Dean Wendell Latimer appointed Charles Wilke (PhD, University of Wisconsin) and LeRoy Bromley (MS, Illinois Institute of Technology). Sadly, shortly after the first class enrolled in 1946, Philip Schutz passed away. Theodore Vermeulen (PhD, UCLA) joined the program in February 1947 and became its head. Don Hanson (PhD, University of Wisconsin) and Charles Tobias (a Hungarian émigré, PhD, Budapest) joined the faculty in the fall of 1947, and they were followed by F. Campbell Williams in 1948.

This initial faculty group remained in place without further additions until 1952 when Ken Gordan from MIT joined the faculty. During this period, a PhD program was formally approved (1948) and the BS program was fully accredited (1949). Charles Wilke succeeded Theodore Vermeulen as Chairman in 1953, and between 1953 and 1955 he recruited three more remarkable intellects: Eugene Petersen from Penn State (1953), Andreas Acrivos from Minnesota (1954), and John Prausnitz from Princeton (1955).

With these pioneers establishing standards of excellence that have consistently marked the department, new areas of research were established in the period between 1953 and 1985. The sub-field of electrochemical engineering (under the leadership of Charles Tobias) is a notable example. During those same years, John Prausnitz developed a systematic approach for obtaining activity coefficients and equations of state for substances central to the petrochemical industry. The major award in this field, now called molecular thermodynamics, is named after Dr. Prausnitz, who continues to be active in teaching, research, and administration.

In the 1970’s Dennis Hess headed up the first program in microelectronics processing within a chemical engineering department. In that same decade, Charles Wilke and Harvey Blanch initiated a pioneering program in biochemical engineering. Under the leadership of Gene Petersen, Michel Boudart, and Alex Bell, an innovative program in catalysis and reaction engineering was established. When Mort Denn joined the faculty in 1981, he set up a world-class program in polymer processing on the Berkeley campus and at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. In 2010, the name of the department was changed to the Department of Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering to reflect the widened scope of teaching and research activities in the department.

An extensive history was published in 2020 by C. Judson King detailing the story of the department. A History of Berkeley Chemical Engineering: Pairing Engineering and Science is available as a pdf from our eScholarship site.

List of faculty

  • 1961 - Alan Foss (1929- 2006)
  • 1962 - Simon Goren joins the faculty.
  • 1963 - Judson King joins the faculty.
  • 1965 - Michael Williams joing the faculty. (Left for University of Alberta 1990.) 
  • 1967- Scott Lynn (retired 1994) and Alexis Bell (chair 1981-91; interim chair 2005-06) join the faculty.
  • 1969- Mitchell Shen joins the faculty (deceased, 1979).
  • 1970- Lee Donaghey (left for Chevron 1977) and Thomas Sherwood (deceased, 1976) join the faculty.
  • 1975 - Clayton Radke joins the faculty.
  • 1977 - Dennis Hess (left for Lehigh University, 1991) joins the faculty.
  • 1978 - Elton Cairns and Harvey Blanch (chair, 1997-2001) join the faculty.
  • 1979 - David Soane (left for Soane Technologies 1994; appointed Adjunct Professor, 1994) and Edward Reiff (left for DuPont, 1982) join the faculty.
  • 1981- Morton Denn (chair 1991-94; left for CCNY, 1999) joins the faculty.
  • 1982- Jeffrey Reimer (chair 2006-2011) and James Michaels (left for Mobil, 1989) join the faculty.
  • 1986 - Douglas Clark (chair 2011- ), David Graves, and Doros Theodorou (left for University of Patras, 1994) join the faculty.
  • 1988 - Arup Chakraborty (chair 2001-2005; left for MIT, 2005) joins the faculty.
  • 1991- Susan Muller joins the faculty.
  • 1991- Room 307 Gilman Hall is designated a Nuclear Historic Landmark by the American Nuclear Society as the site of the first chemical identification of plutonium on February 23-24, 1941.
  • 1992 - Jay Keasling joins the faculty.
  • 1993 - Enrique Iglesia and Roya Maboudian join the faculty.
  • 1993 - Construction of Tan Hall begins.
  • 1997- Gilman Hall designated as an ACS National Historic Chemical Landmark.
  • 1997- Dedication of Tan Kah Kee Hall (April 12, 1997).
  • 1999- David Schaffer joins the faculty.
  • 2000- Alexander Katz and Nitash Balsara join the faculty.
  • 2004- Rachel Segalman joins the faculty; left for UCSB, 2014.
  • 2006 - Jhih-Wei Chu on faculty from 2006-2013.
  • 2007- Berend Smit joins the faculty.
  • 2008 - Keith Alexander joins the faculty as Executive Director of the Product Development Program.
  • 2009 - Danielle Tullman-Ercek on faculty from 2009-2016.
  • 2010 - The department is renamed the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering.
  • 2011- Wenjung Zhang joins the faculty.
  • 2013 - Bryan McCloskey joins the faculty.
  • 2014 - Ali Mesbah joins the faculty.
  • 2016 - Markita Landry and Kranthi Mandadapu join the faculty.
  • 2019 - Rui Wang joins the faculty.
  • 2020 - Karthik Shekhar joins the faculty.
  • 2021- Joelle Frechette joins the faculty.
  • 2023 - Aditi Krishnapriyan joins the department
  • 2024 - Shannon Boettcher joins the department