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Neal R. Amundson

  • Born: January 10, 1916, St. Paul, Minnesota

  Interview Details

Interview no.: 0084
Interview Date: October 24, 1990
Location: University of Houston, Houston, Texas
Interviewer: James J. Bohning
No. of pages: 53
Minutes: 210

  Abstract of Interview

Neal Amundson begins the interview with a discussion of his family and early years in St. Paul, Minnesota. Amundson graduated from high school at the very depth of the Depression. For the Amundson family, times were very grim, yet Amundson's parents insisted on sending their son to college. Amundson attended the University of Minnesota, where he received his B.A. in chemical engineering in 1937. Immediately after graduation, Amundson accepted a position with Exxon, then Standard Oil Company of New Jersey, as a process control engineer. There he worked on controlling phenol loss in Exxon's process for lubricating oil. After nearly two years with Standard Oil, Amundson returned to the University of Minnesota. While working toward his M.S. in chemical engineering, Amundson served as a teaching assistant in the mathematics department. After receiving his M.S. in 1941, Amundson decided to switch his educational focus and received his Ph.D. in mathematics in 1945. Amundson stayed at the University of Minnesota as an assistant professor of mathematics. In 1947, he transferred to the University's chemical engineering department and became an associate professor. In 1949, Dean Athelstan F. Spilhaus offered Amundson the position of acting chair of the chemical engineering department. That same year, Amundson became a full professor with the University. In 1951, at just age thirty-five, Amundson held the positions of department chair and professor at the University. Amundson's research work focused on heat transfer, chromatography, and adsorption. Although he was chair of chemical engineering, Amundson was first a mathematician. As a result, he structured the chemical engineering department on a more theoretical level, hiring faculty that held mathematical interests and initiating mathematical applications into a practical engineering curriculum. The strength of the faculty that Amundson assembled helped build a solid reputation for the University of Minnesota. By the late 1940s and early 1950s, Amundson introduced computers into his curriculum. In 1977, Amundson left the University of Minnesota and became the Cullen Professor of Chemical Engineering at the University of Houston, a position he holds today. Amundson concludes the interview with a discussion of his consulting work, the success of students, and thoughts on his career decisions.


1937 B.A., Chemical Engineering, University of Minnesota
1941 M.S., Chemical Engineering, University of Minnesota
1945 Ph.D., Mathematics, University of Minnesota

  Professional Experience

Standard Oil Company of New Jersey

1937 - 1939 Process Engineer

University of Minnesota

1939 - 1947 Teaching Assistant, Instructor, Assistant Professor, Department of Mathematics

University of Minnesota

1947 - 1951 Associate Professor, Department of Chemical Engineering

University of Minnesota

1949 - 1977 Head, Department of Chemical Engineering

University of Minnesota

1951 - 1967 Professor, Department of Chemical Engineering

University of Minnesota

1967 - 1977 Regents' Professor, Department of Chemical Engineering

University of Houston

1977 - 1982 Cullen Professor of Chemical Engineering

University of Houston

1982 - present Cullen Professor of Chemical Engineering and Professor of Mathematics

University of Houston

1987 - 1989 Vice President



Fulbright Scholar, Cambridge University, England


Guggenheim Fellow, Cambridge University, England

1960 Industrial and Engineering Chemistry Award, ACS
1961 William H. Walker Award, AIChE
1969 National Academy of Engineering
1970 Vincent Bendix Award, American Society of Engineering Education
1970 Fellow, AIChE
1971 Warren K. Lewis Award, AIChE
1973 Richard H. Wilhelm Award, AIChE
1975 Guggenheim Fellow, NATO Senior Fellow
1985 Sc.D. (honoris causa), University of Minnesota
1985 Founders Award, AIChE
1986 Eng. D. (honoris causa), University of Notre Dame
1989 Albert Einstein Award, Computing and Modelling Association

  Table of Contents

Title and Description Page

Early Years 1

Parents. Growing up in St. Paul, Minnesota. Influence of high-school teachers. The Depression. Attending the University of Minnesota. Textbooks. Chemical Engineering Department. Role models and mentors.

Education and Career Beginnings 9

Desire to get a job. Working for Standard Oil (Exxon). Process control. Decision to return to school. Graduate focus on mathematics. Working as a teaching assistant. Hugh Turrittin. Desire to join U.S. Navy. Overcoming speech impediment. Five months at Brown University. Ph.D. dissertation.

Career in Education 17

Staying at University of Minnesota as an Assistant Professor of mathematics. Athelstan F. Spilhaus. Becoming Acting Chair of Chemical Engineering Department. Connection with Chemistry Department. Heat transfer research. Irving Klotz. Mathematics in engineering. Shaping Chemical Engineering Department.

University Environment 25

Faculty at University of Minnesota. High-standards in selection process. Relationship with Chemistry Department. Introducing computers. Leaving the University. Going to University of Houston.

Final Thoughts 34

Consulting work. Finding financial support in academia. Success of students. Changes in teaching profession. Reflections on career. Future of University development.

Notes 41

Index 42

  About the Interviewer

James J. Bohning

James J. Bohning is professor emeritus of chemistry at Wilkes University, where he was a faculty member from 1959 to 1990. He served there as chemistry department chair from 1970 to 1986 and environmental science department chair from 1987 to 1990. Bohning was chair of the American Chemical Society’s Division of the History of Chemistry in 1986; he received the division’s Outstanding Paper Award in 1989 and has presented more than forty papers at national meetings of the society. Bohning was on the advisory committee of the society’s National Historic Chemical Landmarks Program from its inception in 1992 through 2001 and is currently a consultant to the committee. He developed the oral history program of the Chemical Heritage Foundation, and he was the foundation’s director of oral history from 1990 to 1995. From 1995 to 1998, Bohning was a science writer for the News Service group of the American Chemical Society. He is currently a visiting research scientist and CESAR Fellow at Lehigh University. In May 2005, he received the Joseph Priestley Service Award from the Susquehanna Valley Section of the American Chemical Society.

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