Robert Q. Topper

Professor of Chemistry

History of the Chem and ChemE Departments

In this space, I am compiling a record of the history of the Cooper Union's Departments of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering. 

The image to the right [30] was taken in 1979 and features faculty and alumni from the Chemical Engineering and Chemistry departments. Among the faculty pictured here are John Bove (Chemistry - first row on the right), Robert (Bob) Kapner (Chem Eng- first row, third from right), S.I. Cheng (Chem Eng - second row on the left), Zvi Kornblum (Chemistry - next to S.I.) and Julius Klerer (Chemistry - last row on the left). 

 

This photo of the Chemical Eng Class of 2015 also includes several faculty and staff. In the last row,  L to R: Prof. Charles Okorafor (now Chair of Chemical Eng), Prof. Ruben Savizky (Chemistry), Prof. Richard Stock (Chemical Eng), Prof. Robert Topper (Chemistry), Prof. Daniel Lepek (Chemical Eng), Cody Hirashima (student), Liz Leon (Secretary for Chemical Eng and Chemistry), Prof. Irv Brazinsky (Chemical Eng) and Mike Westbrook (Chemical Eng Technician). In the second row from the front, Prof. Andrea Newmark (Chair of Chemistry) is on the left side of the photo.

Perhaps no faculty member has left more of a mark on the Chemistry Department, or on Cooper Union, than Prof. John Bove'. In this image he is pictured in his office at 51 Astor Place, shortly before the building was demolished and the School of Engineering moved to its present home at 41 Cooper Square. Professor Emeritus of Chemistry and Environmental Engineering Bove' taught general, organic and analytical chemistry to generations of students, usually without the use of lecture notes. Bove' served from 1951 to 2011 (with a short break in the middle) and mentored countless research students and faculty members with wit and charm, his students' welfare always at the forefront.

 Professor Emeritus Irv Brazinsky (ChE 1958) is shown sharing his expertise in chemical thermodynamics with a student, with the Gibbs-Duhem equation displayed behind them. Brazinsky was (and is!) an enthusiastic alumnus of Cooper Union. His leadership and character are admired and emulated by his students and his colleagues in the School of Engineering and the Chemical Engineering and Chemistry departments.

First There Was Chemistry

Established in 1859 at the founding of Cooper Union, the Department of Chemistry is one of the oldest academic chemistry departments in New York City.[1] One of Cooper Union's most famous alumni, Thomas Edison, studied chemistry here in 1872.[8,23]  Like Edison, many students studied chemistry on a course-by-course or certificate basis before and after the first degree in Chemistry was established. Peter Cooper himself was no mean chemist, holding numerous patents in areas that we would consider chemical engineering - most notably, the manufacture of gelatin and glue.[18]

The first full three-year "evening science" (engineering) course was offered in 1860 [15] and the first of the five-year graduates - equivalent to a bachelor's degree in general engineering in modern terms - completed their program in 1864. Prof. Charles Stone was the first chemistry laboratory director. In 1870 Stone began organizing laboratory facilities sufficient for chemistry instruction.[16]

Subsequently, the 24th Annual Report of the Trustees (1883) testifies that a diploma in Chemistry was approved by the Trustees in 1881.[14] This degree "represents a five years' attendance in the scientific classes of the Cooper Union associated with strict examination, or at least three years' attendance in the [Chemistry] Laboratory, after passing an admission examination..." and was meant to be an alternative to the "science" program, which was focused on engineering.[14] Those three years would have focused on a year each of general, organic and analytical chemistry.[21] Following that, in 1884 the 25th Annual Report [13] testifies to the existence of the "Cooper Union School of Chemistry (see image)." One student in particular - Robert S.Senger - was recognized by the Trustees as a "Graduate" in chemistry, having already completed the new degree requirements. This was because Senger has already completed significant work in chemistry by the time the diploma was approved. He therefore was the first person to receive a diploma in chemistry at the Cooper Union.[13]

According to an earlier chronology [16], the "five-year diploma course in chemistry" was approved in 1883 and the first graduates of the "Night Chemical course" completed the program in 1888.[9]  However, we see above that the first graduate - Robert S. Senger - completed the degree in 1884 on the basis of his earlier work, and therefore he is an important part of Cooper Union's history as its first graduated chemist. Another point: from the aforementioned chronology[16] we also see a reference to the first graduates of the five-year chemistry course completing their work in 1906. Presumably this refers to the launch of a new chemistry degree within the Day school (the original Chemistry program was offered within the Night school), but this is unconfirmed.

Victor Bloede (a prominent Cooper Union "chemistry" alumnus) was a very early student, receiving a degree in engineering in 1867.[10] Most likely this was with a very strong emphasis and training in chemistry.[21] The initial presence of a cadre of excellent chemistry students like Bloede was certainly a driving force for the subsequent creation of the Chemistry degree in 1883. As an aside, we note that one of the 1884 certificate recipients (Maximilian Toch) became a prominent chemist, eventually rejoined the Chemistry department as a faculty member, and in 1920 was appointed the Director of a new degree program in Applied Chemistry (see below). [2] 

Then there were Applied Chemistry, Industrial Chemistry, and Chemical Engineering

We can now proceed to what we know about the establishment of the chemical engineering degree. The first "specialized" engineering programs at Cooper Union were established in 1900, as three-year courses in civil, electrical, and mechanical engineering. In 1905, the Day School extended these to four-year programs leading to a Bachelor of Engineering degree.[16] The history of the Chemical Engineering department and degree is still being investigated at this writing, but it is well known that the first degree program in chemical engineering in the United States was established in 1888 at MIT. [11] At Cooper Union, a degree in "Applied Chemistry / Industrial Chemistry" was launched to some fanfare in 1920. [2] Although we have no direct evidence, it is very likely that this program replaced one or both of the original "Chemistry" degrees at that time. This program admitted 18 students in 1921.[16] A few years later in 1924, this course was "developed into" the Chemical Engineering degree at Cooper Union. "...there having been added the subjects of Mechanics, Hydraulics, Sanitary Engineering, Differential Equations, Electro-chemical Installations, and Economics." [16]  We are still trying to figure out the timeline for the creation of the Chemical Engineering department, but in 1929 the Chemistry department still existed with its original name.[16] By 1939 the Department of Chemical Engineering had nominally replaced the former Chemistry department, with a mix of chemists and chemical engineers within the department - and was preparing for accreditation by the AIChE.[16] The department consisted of both chemical engineers and chemists until the 1970s.

The Present

During the 1970s, the departmental structures of the entire Cooper Union were disrupted in a series of controversial administrative decisions.[16,17] In 1972 all departments throughout Cooper Union were eliminated and in 1975, the Chemistry, Mathematics and Physics faculty were taken out of the School of Engineering and combined with the Humanities and Social Science faculty to form a new faculty of "Liberal Arts and Sciences."[17] In 1979, the three math and science departments were re-formed and re-joined the School of Engineering as three of its seven (restored) departments. This decision was the beginning of the two departments' simultaneous co-existence as separate entities. [16]  Since most of these faculty remembered a time when they were all in the same department together for many decades, they resolved to continue to work closely together - a relationship that continues to this day.

Notable and Prominent Alumni

The following is the beginning of a list of notable and prominent alumni who either (a) studied within the Cooper Union Chemistry or Chemical Engineering programs, or (b) studied in the general engineering programs with a strong or exclusive focus on chemistry.

  • Victor Gustav Bloede (Eng 1867), industrial chemist  [10,21] (b)
  • Thomas Edison (1872), inventor [8,19,22,23] (b)
  • Henry Cornelius Enders (Chem 19??), Associate Professor of Chemistry and philanthropist. (d. April 1, 1948).  (a)
  • Michael Kasha (1938-1940), professor of biophysical chemistry at Florida State University (and G.N. Lewis' last graduate student). [24] (a)
  • Albert Nerken (ChE 1933) [20], chemical engineer and philanthropist (a)
  • John Lawrence Smith (Chem 1911), chemist, pharmaceutical executive and co-owner of the Brooklyn Dodgers (a) [27]
  • Elizabeth Simons, (Chem Eng 1950), professor of biochemistry at Boston University (d. 03/05/2019). (a) [31,34,35] 
  • Maximilian Toch (Certificate in Chemistry,1884) (also served on the faculty, see above) [1,2] industrial chemist and professor at five different universities (a,b)
  • Robert R. White (ChE 1936), professor of chemical engineering at University of Michigan (1942-1960), consulting engineer (1940-42;1960-67), and Dean, School of Management, Case Western Reserve (1967). M.S.(1936), Ph.D. (1938), Univ. of Michigan [33] (a)
  • Jackie Yi-Ru Ying (ChE 1987) nanotechnology scientist and founding executive director of the Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology in Singapore. [25] (a)

Chemical Engineering and Chemistry Faculty

The following is an incomplete list of full-time faculty who have served the Departments in the past. Current faculty are not yet included in this list. Those who are known to be deceased are marked with an asterisk (*). Years of service follow each person's name in brackets, where this is known.

  • Zikri Ahmed,* Professor of Chemical Eng [1988-2008]; (19XX-2008). B.Sc., Cairo Univ.; M.S.,Ph.D., New Jersey Institute of Technology. [12] 
  • Horace G. Byers,* Professor of Chemistry (Served as Department Head during 1920s; joined CU after WWI) (b.1872; d.1956) [2,6]
  • John L. Bove', Professor Emeritus of Chemistry and Environmental Eng [1951-2011]. B.A., M.S. Bucknell Univ.; Ph.D. Case-Western Reserve University. (Served as Chair of Chemistry)
  • Irving Brazinsky, Professor Emeritus of Chemical Eng [1985-2016]. B.Ch.E. Cooper Union (1958). M.S. Lehigh Univ., Sc.D. Massachusetts Inst. of Tech.  (Served as Chair of Chemical Engineering)
  • George Chang, Professor of Chemical Eng, [1968-1987]. B.Eng. National Taiwan University; Ph.D. Rice University  (1966). [28]  
  • Caleb K. Charny, Assistant Professor of Chemical Eng. [1989-1991]. B.S.,SUNY-Buffalo (1983); Ph.D., Johns Hopkins University (1988); M.D., New York University School of Medicine and New York Hospital Medical Center-Cornell Medical Center (2000).  
  • Shang-I Cheng, Professor Emeritus of Chemical Eng [19XX-1992?]. B.S., National Chekiang Univ.; M.S., Ph.D. University of Florida. (Served as Chair of Chemical Engineering.)
  • Henry Cornelius Enders, Associate Professor of Chemistry and philanthropist. (d. April 1, 1948). B.S. Cooper Union (Chemistry); M.S. Columbia University. [26]
  • Henry B. Hope, Professor of Chemical Eng [3]. B.Ch.E., M.A., Ph.D. (institutions unknown)
  • Julius Klerer, Professor of Chemistry [17,29,30]. Served in numerous leadership roles within the Chemistry department and the (now defunct) School of Liberal Arts and Sciences.
  • Zvi C. Koren (formerly Kornblum), Professor of Chemistry [1977-1990]. B.S. Brooklyn College, Ph.D., City University of New York. Served as Chair of Chemistry.
  • Rebecca A. LaRue, Associate Professor of Chemistry. [19XX-2001]. Ph.D., Univ. of Cincinnati.
  • Herbert Liebeskind,* Professor of Chemical Eng [1945-1987] (d. April 1, 1996). B.S., New York University. [4]
  • Marca Lam-Anderson, Assistant Professor of Chemical Eng and Mechanical Eng [1999-20??]. B. Sc., M.S., SUNY-Buffalo; Ph.D., Virginia Polytechnic Inst.  
  • Albert Broadus Newman, Professor of Chemical Eng [circa 1938]. Served as Chair of Chemical Eng. Ph.D. (1928) Univ of Michigan. [33]  
  • Arthur H. Radasch,* Professor of Chemical Eng [1938-1963] (d. Feb 23, 1975). Mass. Inst. Tech.[7]
  • George Sidebotham, Professor of Chemical Eng and Mechanical Eng [1989-2003; currently in the Mechanical Eng department]. B.S. Trinity College; M.A., Ph.D. Princeton.  
  • Richard J. Stock, Professor of Chemical Eng [1994-2018]. Served as Chair of Chemical Eng and as Acting Dean and Dean of Engineering. B. Sc. University of Nottingham, Ph.D. West Virginia University. 
  • Robert Spice, Professor of Chemistry [1884-1914]. Served as Chair of Chemistry (1900-1914).[32] 
  • Charles S. Stone, A.M., Professor of Chemistry and the first Cooper Union Chemistry Laboratory Director. [13]
  • Maximilian Toch, Professor of Applied Chemistry. Earned one of the first Certificates in Chemistry as an undergraduate; coordinated the 1920 degree in Applied Chemistry. [2] 

Although not full-time, the following faculty are known to have served as adjunct faculty for at least one year:

The following list of names was found in the Records of the Cooper Union Engineering Honor Societies, Mu Alpha Omicron and the Iota Chapter of Tau Beta Pi, 1926-1981.[5] We suspect that the "instructors" in this list must have been what we would now call "adjunct faculty." Most of these names have yet to be cross-checked and these are not yet included in the list above. Names which have been cross-checked are in boldface.

Joseph Allerton, Instructor in Chemistry
Alfred R. Bayer, Instructor in Chemistry
Henry A. Birdsall, Instructor in Chemistry
Temple Clayton, Instructor in Chemistry
Donald W. Deed, Instructor in Chemical Eng
Frank G. Foote, Assistant Professor of Metallurgy
Frank R. Forrester, Instructor in Chemistry
Henry B. Hope, Assistant Professor of Chemistry (see above; title was apparently wrong)
Herbert Liebeskind, Chemical Eng (see above)
August Mendizza, Instructor in Chemical Eng
John D. Oathout, Instructor in Chemical Eng
J. Merriam Peterson, Assistant Professor of Chemical Eng
Arthur H. Radasch, Professor of Chemical Eng and Head of Department (see above)
Albert Reis, Adjunct Professor of Chemical Eng
Fred J. Roeben, Instructor in Chemistry
Clarence S. Sherman, Assistant Professor of Chemistry
Charles F. Stolzenbach, Instructor in Chemistry
William J. Wisewesser, Instructor in Chemical Eng 

References

[1] http://library.cooper.edu/archive/annual_reports/1859-1860%20Annual%20Report%20Part%201.pdf

[2] See Journal of Industrial and Engineering Chemistry, Vol. 12, No. 6, pp. 611-612 (June 1, 1920). 

[3] http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/cen-v028n022.p1865

[4] http://prabook.com/web/person-view.html?profileId=815528

[5]  http://cooper.libguides.com/FAEngHonorSoc

[6] http://academictree.org/chemistry/peopleinfo.php?pid=52502&expand=bio

[7] The New York Times, Feb. 24, 1975, p. 24. Accessed 1/10/2017.  http://www.nytimes.com/1975/02/24/archives/arthur-radasch-chemist-taught-at-cooper-union.html?_r=0

[8] R. Conot, Thomas A. Edison: A Streak of Luck (Da Capo Press, New York, 1979).

[9] Cooper Union Graduation Program, 1927 (Viewed in the Cooper Union Archives on 1/17/2017).

[10] Victor Gustav Bloede (chemist), https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Victor_Gustav_Bloede_(chemist). Accessed 9/6/2018.

[11] N.A. Peppas, The First Century of Chemical Engineering, in Distillations, published by the Science History Institute, Fall 2008. https://www.sciencehistory.org/distillations/magazine/the-first-century-of-chemical-engineering

[12] "In Memoriam: Zikri Ahmed", At Cooper Union, p.34, Summer 2008. See

 https://cooper.edu/sites/default/files/uploads/assets/site/files/ACUSummer08.pdf .

[13] 25th Annual Report of the Trustees of the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art,  May 28th, 1884. Accessed 2/6/2019. 

[14] 24th Annual Report of the Trustees of the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art,  May 26th, 1883. Accessed 2/6/2019. 

[15] E.C. Mack, Peter Cooper: Citizen of New York (Duell, Sloan and Pearce, New York, 1949). See p. 269. 

[16] P. Buckley, The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art - Chonology (1997; revised by M. Brooks and C. Salomon, 2008). 

[17] Decisions of the National Labor Relations Board, Case 2-CA-17483,p. 1768 (5 February 1985). 

[18] "Peter Cooper: Jell-O", Lemelson-MIT Program, https://lemelson.mit.edu/resources/peter-cooper . Accessed 4/8/2019.

[19] Note: Edison is included because he only took courses in chemistry at Cooper Union, in order to help him design an improved electrical stylus. See References 8 and 22.

[20] https://www.nytimes.com/1992/07/30/nyregion/albert-nerken-79-an-engineer-industrialist-and-philanthropist.html . Accessed 4/8/2019.

[21] "Victor Gustav Bloede",  Immigrant Entrepreneurship: German-American Business Biogaphies, https://www.immigrantentrepreneurship.org/entry.php?rec=132 . Accessed 4/15/2019.

[22] "Thomas Edison, Chemist: National Historic Chemical Landmark," American Chemical Society, https://www.acs.org/content/acs/en/education/whatischemistry/landmarks/thomas-edison.html . Accessed 4/15/2019.

[23] Topper, Robert. "Thomas Edison, Chemistry and Cooper Union" on the Cooper Union website, http://faculty.cooper.edu/topper/general/edison.html . Accessed 4/15/2019.

[24] "Dr. Michael Kasha," Florida State University Institute of Molecular Biophysics, http://biophysics.fsu.edu/michael-kasha/ . Accessed 4/15/2019. 

[25] "Alumni Profile: Jackie Ying, ChE 87," http://cooperalumni.org/alumni-profile-jackie-ying-che87/. Accessed 4/15/2019.

[26] "Henry C. Enders," The New York Times, April 2, 1948. Accessed 4/20/2019. (See below). Notably, Prof. Enders endowed the Enders Fund to support Cooper Union chemistry students wishing to pursue graduate work. 








[27] "John L. Smith", in "The Team that Forever Changed Baseball and America: The 1947 Brooklyn Dodgers," Society for American Baseball Research (2012). See also https://sabr.org/bioproj/person/2e658a3e . 

[28] "Taiwan's Struggle: Voices of the Taiwanese,"edited by Shyu-tu Lee and Jack F. Williams, Rowman & Littlefield, Lanham, MD (2014). See p. 53. Prof. Chung is also known as Chang Chan-hung.

[29] See http://library.cooper.edu/tf/mission-vision_1988-2015.pdf. Accessed 5/1/2019.

[30] See https://edelsteincenter.wordpress.com/articles/general-chemistry/. Accessed 5/1/2019. 

[31] See https://www.bumc.bu.edu/biochemistry/profiles/elizabeth-simons/ . Accessed 5/1/2019. 

[32] Nature, Volume 93, 1914. See https://books.google.com/books?id=VSs6AQAAMAAJ&pg=PA685&lpg=PA685&dq=Henry+Hope+chemistry++cooper+union&source=bl&ots=6iAniws9jl&sig=ACfU3U1FdXrGjL40ZlzmO7eSi0KvMrQ_nQ&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwiiqNeL3_rhAhWqc98KHU08CNE4ChDoATAAegQICRAB#v=onepage&q=Henry%20Hope%20chemistry%20%20cooper%20union&f=false. Accessed 5/1/2019.  

[33] See http://umhistory.s3-website.us-east-2.amazonaws.com/Chemical_Engineering_files/*Wilkes%20Chemical%20Engineering%20History%20copy.pdf . Accessed 5/1/2019. 

[34] See http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/bostonglobe/obituary.aspx?n=elizabeth-reiman-simons&pid=192300514 . Accessed 5/1/2019.

[35] See https://prabook.com/web/elizabeth_reiman.simons/1443537 . Accessed 5/1/2019.

 

This page was last updated 05/09/2019.