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UC Berkeley Department of Chemical Engineering changes its name to Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering

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July 1, 2010

The Department of Chemical Engineering at the University of California, Berkeley has been renamed the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, effective July 1, 2010.

The new name recognizes the department’s substantial research and teaching activities in the areas of biochemical and biomedical engineering, biotechnology, and synthetic biology.

Says department chair Jeff Reimer, “The trends in chemical engineering technology and the significant growth in biotech job markets over the past two decades affirm the important role biology plays in chemical engineering. In changing the name, the department wants to signal to applicants, and to the general public, that the department is the nexus for research and teaching in the industrial applications of biology.”

Over the last several years, faculty research in the department has spawned a variety of biologically-related technologies, including new ways to synthesize biofuels and anti-malarial drugs, stem cell techniques for fighting neuro-degenerative disease, microarrays of human enzymes that mimic the functions of the liver and replace animal testing, methods for producing hybridomas and monoclonal antibody therapeutics, and enzyme and surface science developments that have led to practical products such as better laundry detergents and safer contact lenses.

Notes Reimer, “Including ‘biomolecular’ in the department’s title conveys a central theme of the department and increases our impact and competitiveness with regard to enrollments, opportunities for fruitful collaborations and resources for research.

“Furthermore, our faculty are focusing on the development of biological solutions to the world’s energy problems, by playing major roles in new biomolecular initiatives such as JBEI (Joint BioEnergy Institute) and EBI (Energy Biosciences Institute).”

The names of the undergraduate and graduate degrees issued by the department, and their requirements, will remain unchanged. The fall 2010 issue of Catalyst, the college’s alumni magazine, will provide an in-depth look at the department and the developments following the name change.

A brief history of the UC Berkeley Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering

The College of Chemistry on the Berkeley campus came into being in 1872, four years after the founding of the university. In the ensuing decades, the college achieved world renown. The individual who was largely responsible for the college's rise to fame was Gilbert Newton Lewis, who became dean in 1912 and served until 1946.

Following WWII, the university began to more fully recognize the distinct applications and value of chemical engineering — especially its contributions to the war effort and the petrochemical industry. The appointment of the first professor of chemical engineering in July of 1946 marked the administrative decision that ultimately led to the present chemical and biomolecular engineering department at Berkeley. A Ph.D. program in chemical engineering was formally approved in 1948, and the B.S. program was fully accredited in 1949.

In 1957, the Department of Chemical Engineering was created. Berkeley’s College of Chemistry is unusual because, from inception, both the Department of Chemical Engineering and the Department of Chemistry were included in the college. This integration of departments has fostered synergistic interdisciplinary research and a broad education in the chemical sciences for the students.

In the late 1970s, the Department of Chemical Engineering initiated a pioneering program in biochemical engineering. Many of the engineers who helped create the biotechnology revolution of the 1980s received their formative education in Berkeley’s Department of Chemical Engineering.

On July 1, 2010, the department changed its name to the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering to reflect the widened scope.

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