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Norman N. Li

  • Born: January 14, 1933, Shanghai, China

  Interview Details

Interview no.: 0195
Interview Date: May 5, 2000
Location: Mount Prospect, Illinois
Interviewer: James G. Traynham
No. of pages: 39
Sponsor: Society of Chemical Industry
Society of Chemical Industry

  Abstract of Interview

Norman Li begins the interview with a description of his family and childhood years in Fuzhou, China. After World War II, Li's family moved to Taiwan, where Li completed high school. Li then attended National Taiwan University, majoring in chemical engineering. He received his B.A. in 1954. Li's father encouraged him to further his education in the United States. Li attended Wayne State University, where he benefited from the care, support, and assurance of Professor Harold Donnelly. He received his M.S. in chemical engineering in 1957 and then attended Stevens Institute of Technology, receiving his Ph.D. in 1963. Li accepted a position in the Process Division of Exxon Research and Engineering Company. Early in his career at Exxon, Li began thinking about liquid-membrane technology and applications. While with Exxon, Li received a combined total of 44 patents on either hydrocarbon separations or facilitated transport. Li was approached by Mary Good about a new career opportunity at UOP Co. After much deliberation, Li decided to make the move from research to research administration, becoming Director of Separation Science and Technology at UOP in 1981. As soon as he arrived at UOP, Li wrote a proposal that established a liquid-membrane research program. Li left UOP in 1988, joining Mary Good at Allied Signal Co. In 1995, Li decided to "retire" from Allied Signal and establish his own consulting firm, NL Chemical Technology, Inc. Li concludes the interview with a discussion of the future of chemical R&D, reflections on winning the Perkin Medal, and thoughts on his family.


1954 B.A., Chemical Engineering, National Taiwan University, Taipei
1957 M.S., Chemical Engineering, Wayne State University
1963 Ph.D., Chemical Engineering, Stevens Institute of Technology

  Professional Experience

Exxon Research and Engineering Co., Linden, New Jersey

1963 - 1981 Senior Research Scientist

UOP Co., Des Plains, Illinois

1981 - 1988 Director of Separation Science and Technology

Allied Signal Co., Des Plains, Illinois

1988 - 1995 Director of Research and Technology

NL Chemical Technology Inc., Arlington Heights, Illinois

1995 - Present Chief Executive Officer


1980 Chairman, Industrial and Engineering Chemistry Division, American Chemical Society
1988 Alpha Chi Sigma Award for Chemical Engineering Research, American Institute of Chemical Engineers
1988 Separation Science and Technology Award, American Chemical Society
1989 Fellow, American Institute of Chemical Engineers
1990 Member, National Academy of Engineering
1992 Director, American Institute of Chemical Engineers
1995 Special Symposium in Honor of Dr. N. N. Li, American Institute of Chemical Engineers
1995 Ernest W. Thiel Award, American Institute of Chemical Engineers
1996 Member, Acedemis Sinica
1998 Member, Chinese Academy of Sciences
2000 Perkin Medal, Society of Chemical Industry (American Section)
2000 Chemical Engineering Practice Award, American Institute of Chemical Engineers
2000 Special Symposium in Honor of Dr. N. N. Li, American Institute of Chemical Engineers
2001 Fujimura Award for Lifetime Achievement in International Technology Cooperation and Development, American Institute of Chemical Engineers and World Congress of Chemical Engineering, Melbourne, Australia

  Table of Contents

Title and Description Page

Early Years 1

Childhood in China. Parents. Siblings. Moving to Taiwan. Decision to study science. Attending National Taiwan University.

Graduate Education 5

Coming to United States. Attending Wayne State University. Professor Harold Donnelly. Parke-Davis. Stevens Institute of Technology. Instructorship at Stevens.

Early Career 7

Exxon Research and Engineering Company. Lube oil processing. Marriage in 1963. Liquid membranes. Don Baeder. Facilitated transport. Artificial kidney.

Career Changes 16

Mary L. Good. Interview at UOP Co. Move to UOP Co. in research administration. Children. Proposal for development of liquid membrane research program. Reverse osmosis membrane. Sorbex System. Move to Allied Signal Company. Retirement from Allied Signal. Establishment of consulting business.

Conclusion 28

Experiences with Exxon, UOP, and Allied. Future of R&D. Winning Perkin Medal. National Academy of Engineering. Thoughts on family.

Index 36

  About the Interviewer

James G. Traynham

James G. Traynham is a professor of chemistry at Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge. He holds a Ph.D. in organic chemistry from Northwestern University. He joined Louisiana State University in 1953 and served as chemistry department chairperson from 1968 to 1973. He was chairman of the American Chemical Society’s Division of the History of Chemistry in 1988 and is currently councilor of the Baton Rouge section of the American Chemical Society. He was a member of the American Chemical Society’s Joint-Board Council on Chemistry and Public Affairs, as well as a member of the Society’s Committees on Science, Chemical Education, and Organic Chemistry Nomenclature. He has written over 90 publications, including a book on organic nomenclature and a book on the history of organic chemistry.

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