CBE’s Cochran, Reuel honored at College of Engineering Convocation

Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering professors Eric Cochran and Nigel Reuel were among those recognized during the College of Engineering Convocation, the annual academic year kickoff event for Engineering faculty and staff.

Associate professor Cochran was saluted along with Gerald and Audrey Olson Professor R. Christopher Williams of the Department of Civil, Construction and Environmental Engineering for a patent received for work performed at Iowa State’s Bio-Polymer Processing Facility. Cochran and Williams spearheaded the development of the $5.3 million plant, which opened in the university’s BioCentury Farm in 2015 and is a joint operation between the two departments. The patent is for Thermoplastic elastomers via reversible addition-fragmentation chain transfer polymerization of triglycerides.

Assistant professor Reuel was honored for being named a Black & Veatch Building a World of Difference Faculty Fellow in Engineering. He was noted for his research work in the areas of nano materials, sensors, water, energy and wireless communication.

Record number of chemical engineering graduate students choose Iowa State

Eighty-five graduate students, an all-time high for CBE, smile for the camera as they head into fall semester.

A record number of graduate students are being welcomed by Iowa State’s Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering this fall, with 85 individuals from more than a dozen countries pursuing advanced degrees in chemical engineering. Twenty of the students are new to Iowa State this semester.

Both new and returning graduate students gathered recently for the kickoff Graduate Seminar Series event, where all are introduced, along with department faculty and staff, and the schedule for the coming year’s Graduate Seminar Series, which features researchers from around the nation, is announced.

CBE Director of Graduate Education Dr. Eric Cochran addresses students at the Introductory Graduate Seminar.

“We are thrilled to reach this new record number of graduate students enrolling in our programs,” said Reginald R. Baxter Endowed Department Chair Andy Hillier. “Increasing graduate student enrollment is a priority set by the Department and the College of Engineering, so we are delighted to be able reach this milestone, and plan to continue with further growth.”

“The rising number of applicants to our graduate program shows that Iowa State is being recognized as a major force in the realm of chemical engineering higher education,” remarked Dr. Eric Cochran, the department’s Director of Graduate Education.

Chemical engineering graduate students listen to a presentation at the department’s Introductory Graduate Seminar.

The department also hosts 20 post-doctoral researchers and visiting scientists and two interdisciplinary graduate students.

Chemical Engineering graduate students at Iowa State utilize research facilities in both Sweeney Hall and in the Center for Biorenewable Chemicals (CBiRC). In calendar year 2016 the department saw $9.35 million in total research funding. The department currently has an average of nearly 4 graduate students per faculty member with an average of two years to graduation for master’s degree candidates and 4.5 years to graduation for those in the Ph.D. program.

The record crop of graduate students come to Iowa State from the United States, and also from countries that include Bangladesh, China, Germany, India, Iran, Indonesia, Italy, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, South Korea and Taiwan.

CBE’s Graduate Seminar Series again showcases top researchers

CBE faculty and graduate students fill the 171 Durham auditorium for one of last year’s Graduate Seminar Series events.

Researchers and educators from noted institutions around the nation will once again visit Iowa State University to share their work as guests of the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering’s Graduate Seminar Series. The series schedule has been released and is posted on the department’s web site. It will begin with the traditional introductory seminar for CBE grad students August 24 and their safety seminar September 7, with the first guest presenter set for September 14.

Part of the required curriculum for ISU chemical engineering graduate students, the regularly scheduled seminars expose the students to a wide variety of work currently underway in chemical engineering and related fields. The seminars are also open to all Iowa State University faculty members, staff, graduate students, postdoctoral researchers and scientists. They are held Thursdays at 11 a.m. throughout the fall and spring semesters in 171 Durham unless otherwise noted.

Three guest presenters from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology will join faculty members from such schools as Cornell University, Rice University, University of Oklahoma, The Ohio State University, Georgia Tech, University of Delaware, The University of Chicago and Iowa State, in addition to researchers from the U.S. Food & Drug Administration and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Wide-ranging topics to be covered include transport in semiconductor nanomaterials; BioArtificial hydrogels in regenerative medicine; yeasts for producing polymer, pharmaceutical and cosmetic materials; and fuel cells for zero-emission cars, with additional presenters and topics to be announced soon.

Eclipse curriculum! Ch E 325 shines a different light on data collection with solar event

CBE students (left to right) junior Sophie Masters, senior Makayla Moccio, senior Brandon Korkow and senior Luvern “Trey” Wooge collect and record data during the class eclipse exercise.

It was a case of thinking outside the box – with the “box” being the conventional classroom.

CBE professor Stephanie Loveland decided to turn the August 21 solar eclipse into a living laboratory of data collection for her Ch E 325 (CH E Laboratory I) class. And so, with notepads, clipboards, digital thermometers and eclipse-viewing glasses in hand, she and her Chemical and Biological Engineering undergrads spent their first class period of the semester observing the solar eclipse, and recording data about the event. “Rather than the usual first-day syllabus, I decided we’d head outside to take data about the eclipse and practice writing a report about it during the next class period – instead of just working with the usual random data,” said Loveland.

Senior Ashley Iannuzzelli shows a digital thermometer used to record air temperature during the eclipse.

Despite the heavy cloud cover that got in the way of any unobstructed eclipse viewing, the sun was revealed a couple of brief times during the class observation, with one of the times being just four minutes before the maximum of the eclipse.

Time for viewing glasses and devices as the sun briefly breaks through the clouds.

In fact, the cloud cover will be used as an example of “confounding data” when it is analyzed by the students. Using digital thermometers, they took note of the temperature drop that occurred during the eclipse, coming up with a decline of about seven degrees. But, as Loveland will ask, how much effect did the clouds have on the temperature drop, as opposed to simply the eclipse alone?

Though the clouds nearly won the day, Loveland is hopeful the students enjoyed a break from the norm, and enjoyed the chance to shine a different light on the subject of data collection.

CBE’s BioMaP REU undergrads conclude summer of research at Iowa State

BioMaP REU participants get together for a group shot at the Summer Undergraduate Research Symposium. Left to right: Shawn Van Bruggen, Matthew Burroughs, Julia Craft, Mai Doan, Merjem Mededovic, Darren Loh, Logan Morton, Ricky Robinson (not pictured: Jia Hao Wu).

“Loved the program. Well-organized and everyone was extremely helpful.”

“A great way to see what graduate school is really like.”

“Really appreciated the way the graduate students and faculty were so involved.”

With positive reviews and an expanded portfolio of research experience under their belts, the nine undergraduates in the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering (CBE) BioMaP REU program have concluded their summer at Iowa State.

They joined other students involved in summer research at the university’s Undergraduate Research Symposium and also enjoyed a sendoff reception in Sweeney Hall with CBE faculty and staff before turning their attention to upcoming fall classes at their respective institutions around the country.

Participant Jia Wu is shown at work in a Sweeney Hall lab.

The Biological Materials and Processes Research Experience for Undergraduates (BioMaP REU) program brings college students to the Iowa State campus to work under the mentorship of ISU chemical and biological engineering faculty to gain hands-on research experience in topics that match their educational interests and goals. This year’s nine participants were chosen from more than 250 applicants. They included Matthew Burroughs, chemical & biomolecular engineering, North Carolina State University (mentors Qun Wang/Andrew Hillier); Julia Craft, microbiology, Brigham Young University (mentor Laura Jarboe); Mai Doan, biomedical engineering, University of Utah (mentor Kaitlin Bratlie); Darren Loh, chemical & biomolecular engineering, Johns Hopkins University (mentor Balaji Narasimhan); Marjem Mededovic, biomedical engineering, Illinois Institute of Technology (mentor Surya Mallapragada); Logan Morton, chemical engineering, University of Missouri (mentor Balaji Narasimhan); Ricky Robinson, bioengineering, Rice University (mentor Thomas Mansell); Shawn Van Bruggen, chemical and biological engineering, Iowa State University (mentor Ian Schneider); and Jie Hao Wu, chemical & biomolecular engineering, University of Maryland (mentor Nigel Reuel).

“This was a great experience. I had no major lab experience before this, nothing like this,” said Robinson, who will be entering his sophomore

Merjem Mededovic (nicknamed “mom” by participants), cuts the cake at the department reception for the students.

year at Rice. “You don’t know all the answers, but you try something new each day to get there. It’s very valuable because the sooner I can start working in research, the better.”

Matthew Burroughs discusses his research with graduate student Jake Nuhn, one of the program facilitators.

“The graduate school representative who came to talk to us was really great, and really helped me with making decisions about the direction I want to go in the future,” said Mededovic, who added, “The involvement of everyone here in amazing. Even though Dr. Mallapragada is a very busy person, when I would email her a question I’d have a response within an hour.”

“I wasn’t sure about graduate school, but this program gave me the confidence to know that I can do it,” said Burroughs.

The program is funded by the National Science Foundation and will be held again in CBE during the summer of 2018. More information and registration will be available early next year. General information about the program can be found on the CBE web site.


“Once in a lifetime” Spain summer lab for CBE students wraps up

ISU and University of Wisconsin students are all smiles, along with ISU faculty adviser Professor Stephanie Loveland, as they relax prior to returning to the U.S.

Eleven Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering have concluded their stay in Spain with the annual summer lab experience at the University of Oviedo.

The five-week undergraduate course is a cooperative endeavor between the Spanish university, Iowa State University and the University of Wisconsin. Students are immersed in an intensive laboratory research program that allows ISU participants to earn seven academic credits in two chemical engineering courses, in addition to three credits with options for use. It also features things such as on-site plant visits, as well as time for sightseeing, social functions and enjoying the local culture.

Students and Oviedo officials gather at the farewell feast as the program ends.

Iowa State CBE students participating this year were Dan Bell, Abbie Bruen, Jose Maldonado-Olvera, Ian Mathur, Jenny Matz, Mia Merritt, Kendall Neuberger, Erica Peterson, Chris Rogers, Katie Sullivan, and Zhanyi Yao. The faculty leader was Professor Stephanie Loveland.

Comments from participating students included “It has pushed me more than any class I have taken and has greatly improved my knowledge on a wide variety of subjects and writing skills;” “I really enjoyed this once in a lifetime experience and very much appreciate all the work the staff puts in to make this a great experience;” and, “I really felt that all faculty were very involved and very helpful. I got thorough and constructive criticism from everyone. Professors were always willing to help with all questions.”

Preparations for next year’s Oviedo program will soon begin, and am informational meeting will be held in late September. Interested students should watch for more information at the beginning of fall semester.

APEX engineering students kick off department visits in CBE

CBE professor Derrick Rollins talks chemical engineering with the visiting students.

Nineteen incoming freshman engineering students got a taste of chemical engineering recently with the College of Engineering APEXE program. The Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering (CBE) was the first stop in a summer of department tours, industry visits, classroom activities and more for the recent high school graduates, many of whom and undeclared engineering majors.

The Academic Program for Excellence — Engineering (APEXE) is an eight-week experience that assists incoming multicultural freshmen with the transition to ISU prior to their first semester. Each student is enrolled in 3-8 credit hours of classroom activity and connect with resources at Iowa State and in the community.

A hands-on experiment displayed a chemical engineering reaction.

Several CBE faculty members spoke to the students both formally and informally; they received a tour of Sweeney Hall’s facilities, including research labs; took part in an exercise to develop a consumer product from a chemical engineering standpoint; and got to engage in a hands-on chemical engineering experiment.

Arranged through the Iowa State Office of Multicultural Student Affairs, this marks the fourth year the College of Engineering has taken part in the program. It is also administered with the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences for students interested in those disciplines.

More photos are available on the CBE Facebook page

Tumblin’ down: Former ChemE buildings reduced to rubble; photo album posted

Demolition of Old Sweeney in full swing, as viewed from Hoover Hall.

The demolition of Old Sweeney Hall, the original home of Iowa State’s chemical engineering department, was carried out May 17 & 18. An addition that was later installed and enjoins the current Sweeney Hall remains standing, and will be demolished at a date to be determined.

The Nuclear Engineering Building, originally constructed as an additional chemical engineering facility, was also demolished May 15, 16 & 17. Both structures have been leveled in preparation for construction of the Student Innovation Center, which is tentatively scheduled to be opened in early 2020.

An album of photos of the demolition of both buildings can be viewed on the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering (CBE) Facebook page. The project can also be tracked in real time with web cams on the university’s Facilities Planning & Management web site.

Prior to Old Sweeney demolition, the Nuclear Engineering Building was first up.

Originally called the Chemical Engineering Building, Old Sweeney was opened in 1927 and allowed full autonomy for the Department of Chemical Engineering, which originally was a joint effort with the Department of Chemistry. When it opened a headline in the Des Moines Register proclaimed “Iowa’s prosperity may be determined in this building.”

Inside its walls Orland Russell Sweeney, first head of the department, conducted research in many areas and produced many materials with commercial applications. Just a few of those projects Sweeney, fellow researchers and students developed in the

The brick walls of Old Sweeney are taken down one chunk at a time.

building included Maizewood, an insulting board made from cornstalks, which was demonstrated at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1933; hardwood made from cornstalks; Maizolith, or “cornstone,” a product that could be processed into a substance with great strength; and furfural, a compound of formic acid made from corncobs that had many uses in manufacturing products. The building featured a large open bay in the center to

A bike rack outside Old Sweeney was not spared by falling debris.

adequately house equipment needed by Sweeney to produce his products, a hand-operated elevator and a much-heralded “fire pole” for quick exit from the second floor in the event of fire (but which was often used on the sly as an alternative to the elevator or stairs).

The West Chemical Engineering Building opened in 1935 as a U.S. Department of Agriculture facility and housed research and production of agricultural bi-products, the primary focus of Sweeney for many years.

In more recent years Old Sweeney played host to many different university projects and organizations, including serving as the home of the PrISUm solar car team. CBE emeritus professors George Burnet and Tom Wheelock, who spent many years working in Old Sweeney, shared recollections of the structure in a news story entitled “Before the wrecking ball, memories of ‘Old Sweeney’ have their time.”

Jim Hill retires from CBE after 46 years of research, education and outreach

Hill (left) receives a plaque from CBE’s Reginald R. Baxter Endowed Department Chair Andy Hillier at the reception in his honor.

Chemical and Biological Engineering University Professor James (Jim) Hill has announced his retirement, and was honored with a reception hosted by the department. Hill has been part of the CBE faculty since 1971 and served as department chair from 2005-2009. His work as a researcher, educator and advocate for students through the renowned ISU solar car team and student organizations will leave a lasting legacy.

He obtained his Ph.D. from the University of Washington, Seattle, in 1968. After working in NASA’s Laboratory for Theoretical Studies and Shell Development Co., he began looking into a career in academia. An associate tipped him off to a faculty opening in Iowa State’s Chemical Engineering Department. Hill, who had never seen the Midwest, applied for the position and was hired. He has made Ames and Iowa State his home ever since.

Computational fluid dynamics has dominated his research at Iowa State, with a particular emphasis on chemical reactions and turbulent flow. His turbulence research received support from the NASA-Ames Research Center, IBM, The National Center for Supercomputing Applications, the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Center for Turbulence Research and the National Center for Atmospheric Research. In 2000 Hill and fellow CBE professor Rodney Fox received funding from NSF and Dow Chemical to develop a turbulent mixing laboratory at Iowa State which includes laser and high-speed particle imagery

Hill was recently named a distinguished alumnus by the Department of Chemical Engineering at his alma mater, the University of Washington. A plaque commemorating the honor was displayed at his reception.

components. At the time, few chemical engineering departments boasted such laboratories. Hill has been a regional editor for the journal “Fluid Dynamics Research” and a member of the Computational Fluid Dynamics Center at Iowa State. He has held visiting appointments at Japan’s Nagoya University, the Isaac Newton Institute in the United Kingdom and at Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, Rouen, France. He received the Iowa Board of Regents Faculty Excellence Award in 1996.

Hill was pictured with the most recent Team PrISUm solar car when he was featured in the university’s “Change Agent” series. He has been the faculty adviser to the highly successful program since 1989. Iowa State University photo by Christopher Gannon.

He has been active for many years in the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE), where he was named a Fellow in 1996 and has been on the organization’s Board of Directors since 2004. He has also been involved with the Council for Chemical Research and the Tau Beta Pi engineering honor society as a campus adviser and Director of District 11 (upper Midwest). He was named Tau Beta Pi’s first National Outstanding Adviser in 1994.

One of Hill’s most enduring contributions has come as faculty adviser for Iowa State’s PrISUm solar car racing team, a position he has held since 1989. Under Hill’s guidance, Team PrISUm has become one of the most successful and familiar forms of outreach for science and engineering at Iowa State. From involvement in the early solar car events under the banner of “Sunrayce” to the more recent American Solar Challenge events, Iowa State’s solar car efforts have garnered plenty of results and attention – including first-place finishes in some of the nation’s most prestigious events. In honor of his years of dedication to the ISU program, Hill was presented with the American Solar Challenge Lifetime Achievement Award last year.

Hill will continue to be part of the department and the university as a professor emeritus.


Undegraduate Sultan Alsayegh reacts to a comment during an address to the graduates.

The Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering honored its undergraduates in the traditional Pre-Commencement Reception the morning of May 6. Students, family members and friends came together for a buffet breakfast and ceremony at Iowa State’s Fisher Theater.

A total of 80 spring semester graduates and 14 summer session graduates are wrapping up their chemical and biological engineering curriculum and taking the next step in their lives. Spring graduates will be embarking on new careers with numerous companies around the nation and in foreign countries, working in areas and positions such as manufacturing, food products, process control, water quality, pharmaceuticals, personal care products, agricultural products, chemical production, biomedical engineering, petroleum products, grain processing and more. Others will enter graduate school.

Catherine Le Denmat receives the Lawrence E. Burkhart Outstanding Senior Award from Reginald R. Baxter Endowed Department Chair Andy Hillier.

Graduate Catherine Le Denmat was honored as the department’s Lawrence E. Burkhart Outstanding Senior and addressed those in attendance.

In addition to undergraduates a total of 11 students are also receiving graduate degrees in spring semester or summer session.

CBE congratulates all its spring and summer graduates, wishes each one well in their future endeavors and invites each one to maintain a relationship with the department as alumni.

New “Faces of Iowa State” portraits include CBE connections

Three individuals with ties to the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering are featured in the latest round of Faces of Iowa State portraits painted by artist Rose Frantzen at Iowa State University.

Mary Jane Hagenson during her portrait sitting.

CBE Anson Marston Distinguished Professor Emeritus George Burnet, biomedical engineering alumna and CBE supporter Mary Jane Hagenson and ISU electrical engineering alum and CBE supporter Ed McCracken all had recent sittings with Frantzen. Her renditions of them will be part of a group that will join portraits painted by Frantzen at the Iowa State Fair in 2016.

George Burnet with artist Frantzen.

Burnet has been part of the CBE faculty since 1956. During his tenure he served as head of the department from 1961-1978. He also served as chief of Ames Laboratory’s chemical engineering division for many years and was an interim dean of the College of Engineering. He played a key role in helping to organize the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering’s Centennial Celebration, held in 2013. He also co-authored a book, “The First 100 Years of Chemical Engineering at Iowa State University,” which was released as part of that celebration. Burnet still serves the department in advisory roles, is a lifetime member of the Iowa State University Alumni Association and is a member of the ISU Foundation W.M. Beardshear Society.

Hagenson received a B.S. in physics from Iowa State in 1974; an M.S. in biomedical engineering in 1976; and a Ph.D. in that curriculum in 1980. She is retired vice president of research and technology for Chevron Philipps Chemical Company. She is a past chair of the Department of

Ed McCracken holds his pose during his session.

Chemical and Biological Engineering’s Advisory Council, and is a charter member of the department’s Hall of Fame, which began in 2013. In 2015 she and husband Randy, an Iowa State alumnus with a B.S. in electrical engineering and M.S. and Ph.D. in nuclear engineering, established the Richard C. Seagrave Associate Professorship in the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering.

McCracken holds a B.S. in electrical engineering and is a recipient of the Distinguished Alumni Award. He and his wife, Ana, who holds a B.S. in fashion merchandising from Iowa State, provide the Ana & Ed McCracken Engineering Scholarship to a deserving chemical engineering student each year. He is retired CEO of Silicon Graphics, Inc. His leadership spurred the development of computers specifically designed for the creation and manipulation of 3-D images, which were used extensively in the movie and television industry. He was presented with the National Technology Medal award by President Clinton.

Artist Rose Frantzen is a native of Maquoketa, IA, where she became known for a series of painted portraits of local residents. Her works became a display at the National Portrait Gallery at the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C. In 2016 she did 19 similarly-styled portraits of Iowa State faculty and staff during the Iowa State Fair, the birth of the project called Faces of Iowa State. One of those subjects was CBE’s Anson Marston Distinguished Professor and Carol Vohs Johnson Chair Surya Mallapragada. A total of 13 more portraits were done on campus this spring during a nine-day residency by Frantzen and those works now also become part of the Faces of Iowa State series. They will join the State Fair portraits in a touring exhibition which will launch at the Brunnier Art Museum in late August of this year. It will continue to sites throughout the state of Iowa. At the conclusion of the tour, the portraits will join the Iowa State University permanent Art on Campus Collection.

The finished portraits are pictured below.

Ed McCracken
George Burnet
Mary Jane Hagenson



Before the wrecking ball, memories of “Old Sweeney” have their time

CBE emeritus professors George Burnet (left) and Tom Wheelock pose for a photo next to a former office in Old Sweeney during a final visit to the building before its destruction.

While not as iconic as its landmark neighbor the Marston Water Tower, a historic structure that has been part of the College of Engineering landscape for many decades is about to meet its end. Known as “Old Sweeney,” the structure that extends from the southeast corner of the current Sweeney Hall, along with the nearby Nuclear Engineering Building, will soon be reduced to rubble to make way for the new Student Innovation Center.

Once the home of Iowa State’s chemical engineering department for nearly 40 years, Old Sweeney holds its share of memories for those who have worked, studied and conducted research in it; and for two Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering faculty members, Anson Marston Distinguished Professor Emeritus Dr. George Burnet and University Professor Emeritus Dr. Thomas (Tom) Wheelock, they have done all three. On the eve of Old Sweeney’s destruction, they discussed days gone by in the structure that played a key role in the evolution of a department and curriculum.

Old Sweeney as it appeared during its time as the Chemical Engineering Building. The north addition, which added classroom and office space, is seen on the right edge of the photo.

In the time following World War I chemical engineering was a rapidly expanding frontier in the United States, and a growing curriculum at Iowa State University. Orland Russell Sweeney, the namesake of Sweeney Hall, became the first head of chemical engineering at ISU in 1920, after being assured an autonomous chemical engineering department would be established, instead of being tied to the chemistry department, as it was at the time. In light of that, the “Chemical Engineering Building” opened to house the new department seven years later.

George Burnet walked through the doors of the Chemical Engineering building as an undergraduate chemical engineering major in 1942. He then put his studies aside and volunteered for the Army in 1944 and served in the South Pacific. He returned to Iowa State to finish his bachelor’s degree in 1948; he earned a master’s at ISU in 1949 and Ph.D. in 1951. After working in industry he returned to his alma mater as an associate professor in charge of unit operations and became department head in 1961.

Tom Wheelock interrupted his undergraduate chemical engineering studies at Iowa State in 1943 to serve the war effort in the U.S. Navy. He returned to ISU after the war and received his B.S. in 1949. After spending time in industry he returned to ISU for graduate school in 1954 and received his doctorate and joined the faculty in 1958.

Part of the second floor of Old Sweeney in a recent photo. The building’s elevator, once operated by a rope, was accessed through the gray door on the right.
The main floor of the Chemical Engineering Building (Old Sweeney) as it appeared in the 1930s during the height of research and production during “the Sweeney years.”

It is perhaps ironic, yet fitting, that Old Sweeney and the Nuclear Engineering Building will fall into history together. Unknown to many, the “NukeE Building,” as it is often called, was originally called the West Chemical Engineering Building. It was built in 1935 as a USDA Research Laboratory and was a key part of the earliest chemical engineering work on campus. Sweeney was heavily involved with the use of agricultural bi-products in his early years at ISU, and “The USDA built that building to expand Sweeney’s ag bi-product research,” said Burnet. “Sweeney was interested in uses for soybeans. At that time soybeans were being imported from China and the expelling process they used for extracting ingredients was not very efficient – so Sweeney started looking at ways to do a more practical chemical extraction.” The building became home to a 10-ton per day soybean extraction facility that was used as a pilot test plant for creating soybean oil meal for feeding to livestock. Unfortunately, widespread death of cattle from eating the original meal led to changes in extraction techniques. Many Iowa State chemical engineering students wrote theses on this topic.

Orland Russell Sweeney, who put Iowa State University chemical engineering on the map.

But it was in the nearby Chemical Engineering Building where the majority of the long-term education and research was performed. The chemical engineering department was originally housed in the basement of Gilman Hall. But when the new Chemical Engineering Building went up in 1927 there was a great exodus of people and equipment to the new dedicated structure. An architect’s rendering of the building ran in the Des Moines Register with the bold headline, “Iowa’s prosperity may be determined in this building.” It cost about $70,000 to build.

“There was just one classroom in there,” said Burnet, “and it held about 30 people. So classrooms in other locations had to be utilized.” That problem was solved with the addition of a north wing to the Chemical Engineering Building completed in 1931 that provided more classroom space, in addition to offices for the chair, staff and others. Today it is the one-story segment of the structure that connects with the southeast corner of Sweeney Hall. Burnet recalled a memorable feature of the north addition: something called a “jack shaft,” a large rotating shaft that hung from the ceiling and ran the length of the building. “If you wanted to power something in the building, such as a motor, you’d attach one end of a belt to what you wanted to run and attach the other end to that rotating jack shaft, and there was your power source,” said Burnet.

George Burnet with a chemical engineering student circa 1962.
Tom Wheelock (left) discusses a project with a chemical engineering student in the 1960s.

“The original large building was mostly labs,” Wheelock recalled. “It had a large open bay in the center that encompassed the whole second floor. Sweeney developed it that way so that he could have the space to demonstrate uses of many different products he constantly worked on.” Just a few of those projects Sweeney and company developed in that building included Maizewood, an insulting board made from cornstalks, which was demonstrated at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1933; hardwood made from cornstalks; Maizolith, or “cornstone,” a product that could be processed into a substance with great strength; and furfural, a compound of formic acid made from corncobs that had many uses in manufacturing products.

The department head had an office, but it was not “exclusive real estate.” “It served many purposes,” said Burnet. “It was used for things like Ph.D. presentations and meetings of all kinds. There were no conference rooms like today.”

Prior to the Old Sweeney demolition, an old lab sink is a remnant of chemical engineering work.

Another favorite memory for Burnet involved difficulty keeping his office clean. “In the fifties there was no air conditioning in the building,” he said. It had large Steelcase windows you would swing open for air. At night in hot weather when you’d go home you’d leave the windows open so cooler air would come in. Problem was, there was a parking lot nearby, where The Durham Center is now. The lot was paved with cinders and they’d float around on the wind. I’d come in the next morning and have to clean all the black dust off my desk.” Wheelock added that those large windows also made an attractive entryway into the building for birds. “The sparrows were always coming in and messing up the furniture,” he said.

A rusted flask holder, a memory of past chemical engineering experiments, stands guard in Old Sweeney prior to demolition.

Then there was the elevator: “There was an elevator that went from the first floor to the second floor,” Wheelock commented. “It was hand operated. You pulled a rope to make it go up and down.”

But perhaps the biggest conversation piece in Old Sweeney was the fire pole. Just like what can be found in fire stations, the brass pole was installed to allow quick exit from the second floor in the event of a fire. “There was a railing around the perimeter of the big opening on the second floor, like a balcony,” Burnet explained. “In one spot next to the pole there was a gate. You’d open the gate, reach out, grab the pole and slide down.” As you’d expect, a fire pole designed for emergency exit also made for an attractive way to quickly get from the second floor to the first under normal circumstances. It was said that Sweeney himself would often surprise visitors to the building by sliding down the pole, nattily dressed in his trademark gray suit. Students, too, “Would sometimes take advantage of the pole, even though they were not supposed to,” said Burnet. When asked if faculty over the years ever did the same, he just smiles and shrugs. Question answered.

The timeless message of “Safety First” watches over a classic pushbutton light switch in Old Sweeney.

Sweeney was a big believer in efficiency of design and use of resources. Drains for water and other fluids were strategically placed in the building, and the concrete floors were correspondingly sloped toward the drains – so much so that it was noticeable when one walked across the floor. “When you walked through that building you were always going up and down. People would always comment about it,” said Burnet.

And outside the building was another favorite sentimental spot: A large pile of discarded heavy laboratory equipment. Called “Sweeney’s junk pile,” Sweeney would vigorously defend its existence as a good source of parts for research. Though the “junk pile” eventually went away when a storage building elsewhere was put up, the tradition was apparently revived by Henry Weber, who was a faculty member from the late 40s to the mid-60s. Burnet said in the same spot on the west side of the building was what was called “The Bone Pile,” a large collection of things like pipes and fittings. “If you needed something for your research you went out to the Bone Pile and you could find what you were looking for,” he chuckles.

A chemical engineering lab hood from days gone by seen in Old Sweeney. Past spray painted messages discuss mercury in the unit, and its later removal.

Construction of the original portion of today’s Sweeney Hall began in 1962 and the building was dedicated in 1964. Much of the department’s functions moved to the new Sweeney Hall, though Old Sweeney was retained and used for many years. In more recent times it became home to a variety of interests, including a wind turbine research program, the ISU solar car race team, Team PrISUm and much more.

When Old Sweeney and the Nuclear Engineering Building meet their demise in demolition that is tentatively set to begin May 8, space will be opened for the new Student Innovation Center, which will allow study, collaboration and creation. And thus the same Iowa State University spirit and tradition that was fostered within the walls of the original structures will be continued inside those that will shine brightly with new promise into the future.




Chemical Engineering alumna Gayle Roberts joins CBE Hall of Fame

Gayle Roberts (center) and CBE’s Reginald R. Baxter Endowed Department Chair Andy Hillier are joined by James L. and Katherine S. Melsa Dean of Engineering Sarah Rajala, who attended the banquet to offer her congratulations.

Gayle A. Roberts, P.E., an Iowa State University Chemical and Biological Engineering alumna, was officially inducted into the department’s Hall of Fame during a banquet April 12. Since 2007 Roberts has been president of Stanley Consultants, a global engineering firm that provides planning, design, consulting, construction and management services to clients around the world. She is the fifth president in the company’s history and its first female president. In 2012 she was also elected chief executive officer.

Roberts graduated from Iowa State University in 1981 with a B.S. in Chemical Engineering, and earned an M.B.A. from St. Ambrose University in 1991. She is a licensed professional engineer in seven states and Puerto Rico.

After joining Stanley Consultants in 1981 she has achieved more than 30 years of experience in the consulting engineering industry. Throughout her career she has eagerly accepted new and challenging assignments. This enthusiasm led her to positions as resident engineer, project manager, market leader, and business leader.

She is a longtime champion of women in engineering and regularly encourages young women to consider the field as a viable and exciting career choice that holds many opportunities. She has been recognized for these efforts, as well as her contributions to the engineering industry, with multiple awards including: Athena Award from The Women’s Connection; Upward Mobility Award from the Society of Women Engineers; Professional Achievement Citation in Engineering (PACE) Award from the Iowa State University Alumni Association; Woman of Influence Award from the Corridor Business Journal; Voice of the Engineer Award from the Iowa Engineering Society; 50% Solution Award from the Iowa Women’s Foundation; and the Large Company Innovation and Leadership Category of the Iowa Women of Innovation Award from the Technology Association of America.

She is currently a member of the Executive Committee of the American Council of Engineering Companies Design Professionals Coalition; a past President of the American Council of Engineering Companies of Iowa and currently serves as the organization’s National Director; and served from 2012 to 2015 as a Director of Engineers Without Borders – USA and as a member of the Development Committee.

Her service to Iowa State University includes three terms on the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering Advisory Board, including one term as president.  She also served on the board of the University’s Engineering Policy and Leadership Institute. She is also a member of Rotary International, the Iowa Engineering Society, the American Council of Engineering Companies (ACEC), and the Society of American Military Engineers (SAME).

She joins Michael D. Brady, who entered the CBE Hall of Fame in the fall of 2016, as this year’s inductees.

The Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering recognizes selected alumni and their accomplishments through its Hall of Fame. Launched in 2013 as part of the department’s centennial celebration, members are inducted on an annual basis, and recognition includes a plaque in their honor placed on the Hall of Fame wall in the lobby of Sweeney Hall.


CBE’s Balaji Narasimhan named Anson Marston Distinguished Professor

Balaji Narasimhan will become part of a select group of Iowa State faculty members as an Anson Marston Distinguished Professor.

Dr. Balaji Narasimhan, Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering Professor and Vlasta Klima Balloun Chair, has been named Anson Marston Distinguished Professor in Engineering at Iowa State University.

The title of Anson Marston Distinguished Professor honors outstanding achievement in advancing engineering science, technology or policy having national and international impact in academics, industry, public service, government or other venues. The awardee retains the title for the remainder of his or her career at Iowa State.

Marston was an educator and engineering department head at Iowa State, and was influential in the development of the College of Engineering and the Iowa State campus.

Narasimhan is shown at the 2015 University Awards ceremony where he was awarded for Outstanding Achievement in Research. He will officially receive the Marston honor at the 2017 ceremony in September (Photo by Chris Gannon, Iowa State University).

Narasimhan joined the Iowa State CBE faculty as an assistant professor in 2001 and was promoted to associate professor with tenure in 2003. From 2006 to 2007, he was the director of the Institute for Combinatorial Discovery at Iowa State University. In 2007, he was promoted to professor and also appointed the associate dean of research and economic development for the College of Engineering. He earned his B.S. from the Indian Institute of Technology in Bombay, India, in 1992 and Ph.D. from Purdue University in 1996, both in chemical engineering. After a postdoctoral stint at MIT and a visiting position at Purdue, Balaji joined the chemical and biochemical engineering faculty at Rutgers University as an assistant professor in 1997. He also spent time at the University of Naples, Italy, and Cambridge University, UK, as a visiting scientist.

Among many other honors and awards are the ISU Foundation Early Excellence in Research Award in 2003; being named Vlasta Klima Balloun Professor of Engineering in 2010; being named a fellow in the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 2011; and the Iowa State University Award for Outstanding Achievement in Research in 2015.

One of his primary research thrusts is the Nanovaccine Initiative, a consortium of 68 researchers at 21 universities, research institutes, national laboratories, companies and health care coalitions that is coordinated by Iowa State University. The Initiative is developing nanovaccines and nanotherapeutics for respiratory infections, neural disorders, tropical diseases, cancer, and veterinary diseases. Novel “pathogen-mimicking” nanovaccines the group is developing are expected to revolutionize the ability to prevent viral and bacterial diseases. View Dr. Narasimhan’s research site.

The Anson Marston honor will be conferred at the University Awards Ceremony in September of 2017 (details are forthcoming).