Robert Q. Topper

Professor of Chemistry

History of the Chem and ChemE Departments

In this space I am compiling links, photos, essays and other information detailing the histories of the Cooper Union's Department of Chemistry and the Department of Chemical Engineering. These histories are complicated by changes that happened over time to degrees and departmental structures at Cooper Union. 

The image to the right 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), S.I. Cheng (Chemical Eng - second row on the left), and Zvi Kornblum (Chemistry - next to S.I.). Other faculty in the first and last rows have not yet been identified.

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'. At left 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. A professor emeritus of Chemistry and Environmental Eng, Bove' taught general, organic and analytical chemistry to generations of students, usually without the use of lecture notes. Bove' mentored countless research students and faculty members with wit and charm, his students' welfare always at the forefront.

 

 

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

 

What we know so far

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, preceding the existence of the School of Engineering by many decades.[1] One of Cooper Union's most famous alumni, Thomas Edison, studied chemistry - and only chemistry - here in 1872.[8]  Many students studied chemistry on a course-by-course or certificate basis before and after the first degree in Chemistry was established. The initial academic focus was on "practical science" - what we would now call engineering - and since chemistry was considered a practical, benchtop activity, it was an essential part of every student's training. 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 engineering in modern terms - completed their program in 1864. 

Prof. Charles Stone was the first chemistry laboratory director, and in 1870 he began organizing laboratory facilities for practical 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 Laboratory, after passing an admission examination..." and was meant to be an alternative to the "science" program, which was focused on engineering.[14] Following that, in 1884 the 25th Annual Report [13] testifies to the existence of the "Cooper Union School of Chemistry." One student - Robert S.Senger - was recognized as a "Graduate" in chemistry, having already completed the new degree requirements -  and undergraduate "certificates" in Chemistry at two different levels were awarded to seven undergraduate students. Senger has already completed significant work in chemistry by the time the diploma was approved, and he was the first person to receive a diploma in chemistry at the Cooper Union.[13] 

 

One of the certificate recipients, Maximilian Toch, eventually rejoined the Chemistry department as a faculty member and in 1920 directed a new program in Applied Chemistry (See below). [2]  One point of confusion: according to the chronology assembled by Buckley [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] This is because the degree program didn't truly get off the ground until 1883 as a five-year program, but in the meantime was awarding certificates rather than diplomas. However, the first graduate - Robert S. Senger - completed the degree in 1884, and therefore is an important part of Cooper Union's history as its first graduated chemist.   

Another point of confusion: from the Buckley 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 chemistry degree within the Day school (the original Chemistry program was offered within the Night school) but this is unconfirmed. 

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. It is well known that the first degree program in chemical engineering in the United States was established in 1888, at MIT.[11]  A Wikipedia page about Victor Bloede (a prominent Cooper Union alumnus) states that in 1867 he was a member of the first class of Cooper Union students to receive a degree in Chemical Engineering.[10] Frome the forgoing we see that this is an error and his degree must have been in general science and engineering, perhaps with an emphasis in chemistry. To date, we have not established exactly when the chemical engineering degree was established. However, we do know that a degree in "Applied Chemistry / Industrial Chemistry" was launched to some fanfare in 1920. [2] Although we have no direct evidence, it is likely that this program replaced the original "Chemistry" degree.  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] In 1939 the Department of Chemical Engineering existed - presumably, replacing the former Chemistry department, with a mix of chemists and chemical engineers in the faculty - and was preparing for accreditation by the AIChE.[16] One complication: during the 1970s, the departmental structures of the entire Cooper Union were disrupted in a series of controversial decisions.[16,17] In.1972 all departments 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 faculty of "Liberal Arts and Sciences."[17] In 1979, the three math and science departments were re-formed and became part of the School of Engineering's seven (restored) departments, which 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.

Former faculty who served in the Chemical Engineering and Chemistry Departments

The following is an incomplete list of full-time and adjunct faculty who have served the Departments in the past. Current faculty are not 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. (Served as the institutional safety officer) [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 [1951-201X?]. B.A., M.S. Bucknell Univ.; Ph.D. Case-Western Reserve University. (Served as Chair of Chemistry)
  • Irving Brazinsky, Professor Emeritus of Chemical Eng [1985-201X?]. B.Ch.E. Cooper Union (1958). M.S. Lehigh Univ., Sc.D. Massachusetts Inst. of Tech.  (Served as Chair of Chemical Engineering)
  • G.V. Chandrashekhar, Adjunct Professor of Chemistry.
  • 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 B. Hope, Professor Emeritus of Chemical Eng [3]. B.Ch.E., M.A., Ph.D. (institutions unknown)
  • Zvi C. Koren (formerly Kornblum), Professor of Chemistry [1977-1990]. B.S. Brooklyn College, Ph.D., City University of New York.
  • Rebecca A. LaRue, Associate Professor of Chemistry. [19XX-2001]. Ph.D., Univ. of Cincinnati.
  • Herbert Liebeskind,* Professor Emeritus 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.  
  • Arthur H. Radasch,* Professor Emeritus of Chemical Eng [1938-1963] (d. Feb 23, 1975). Mass. Inst. Tech.[7]
  • James Rubenstone, Adjunct Professor of Chemistry.
  • Omar A. Sharafeddin, Adjunct Professor of Chemistry [199?-2017]. B.S. Baylor Univ; Ph.D. Univ. of Houston.
  • 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.  
  • Susan Silk, Adjunct Professor of Chemistry.
  • Richard J. Stock, Professor of Chemical Eng [1994-2018]. Served as Chair of Chemical Engineering and as Acting Dean and Dean of Engineering. B. Sc. University of Nottingham, Ph.D. West Virginia University. 
  • Charles S. Stone, A.M., Professor of Chemistry. [13]
  • Maximilian Toch, Adjunct Professor of Applied Chemistry (coordinated the degree in Applied Chemistry announced in 1920) [2] 

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] Most of these names have yet to be cross-checked and so are not yet included in the list above.

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; changed titles?)
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 

[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). 

This page was last updated 02/07/2019.