September 2022

Industry Pioneers

Industry Pioneers: The people that have advanced the HPI for more than 150 yr

Carl von Linde was a German scientist and engineer who pioneered new technologies in refrigeration and the invention of air separation and gas liquefaction processes. In the 1870s, Linde’s studies led to an efficient design for refrigeration.

Nichols, Lee, Sharma, Sumedha, Hydrocarbon Processing Staff


Carl von Linde was a German scientist and engineer who pioneered new technologies in refrigeration and the invention of air separation and gas liquefaction processes. In the 1870s, Linde’s studies led to an efficient design for refrigeration. The first iteration used methyl ether, which was later switched to ammonia. Towards the end of the 1870s, Linde and five partners established the Gesellschaft fur Linde’s Eismaschinen (Linde’s Ice Machine Co.) in Wiesbaden, Germany. The novel refrigeration device was of extreme importance, especially to the beer brewing industry, as well as the meat industry and cold storage facilities. These inventions quickly replaced ice in many industries, especially in food handling.

In the early 1890s, Linde research shifted to low-temperature refrigeration and the liquefaction of air. This included the technique of obtaining pure oxygen and nitrogen by fractional distillation of liquefied air. In 1895, he successfully liquefied air by compressing it and then letting it expand rapidly, which cooled it. This enabled him to obtain oxygen and nitrogen from the liquified air by slow warming.1 Several years later, he invented a method for separating pure liquid oxygen from liquid air, which provided oxygen to various industries.2 These discoveries led to the creation of Linde Air Products in the U.S. in 1907, which later became part of the Union Carbide company at the beginning of World War I.3


The Canadian geologist and physician, Abraham Gesner, is credited with the invention of kerosene. In the mid-1830s, he worked as a provincial geologist in New Brunswick, Canada, examining coal in the province. In the 1840s, he began experimenting with hydrocarbons, especially bitumen from Trinidad. From these experiments, he developed a process to extract oil, which could be burned. However, the bitumen product was expensive to obtain and the burning of it produced a horrendous odor. Therefore, he started experimenting with a type of asphalt called albertite. Gessner noticed that the oil that was extracted—the process was done by heating coal in a retort4—burned with a strong yellow flame with no odor.

In 1854, Gesner obtained three U.S. patents for his kerosene fuel and set up the North American Kerosene Gas Light Co. on Long Island, New York (U.S.). The company prospered and kerosene began to be the go-to fuel for lamp lighting, replacing whale oil.


Samuel Kier was an American inventor and is thought of as the founder of the American refining industry. Several years after Gesner’s discovery of kerosene, Samuel Kier began his own experimentation on petroleum that would seep into his family’s salt wells near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (U.S.)—at the time, this substance was known as “carbon oil.” Although the substance could be burned for lighting, much like Gesner’s experiments with bitumen from Trinidad, the unrefined material had an unpleasant odor. Instead, Kier used the material for medicinal purposes until it lost its appeal in the early 1850s.

To find another path for the oily substance, Kier experimented with using the substance for lighting. On the recommendation of James Booth, a chemist and professor from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (U.S.), Kier used distillation to extract the best materials for the use of lamp burning fuel. In 1851, Kier began selling his lamp fuel oil for $1.50/gal, a more cost-effective product than whale oil. As demand grew, Kier established North America’s first oil refinery in 1853, which processed 1 bpd–2 bpd of liquid petroleum in its first year, growing to 5 bpd in 1854. The effects of Kier’s refinery not only led Pittsburgh to become the first U.S. city to be illuminated by petroleum, but also led to the start of the country’s refining industry.


In 1870s, the Samuel brothers inherited their father’s import-export business. At the time, their father (Marcus Samuel) built a prosperous business of importing shells from the Far East to be used in interior design.

Around 1880, the Samuel brothers expanded their father’s business to include exporting oil around the world. However, a challenge at the time was oil containers and space on a marine vessel. Oil barrels were prone to leak and took up a lot of space on oceangoing vessels. To overcome this challenge, they commissioned a fleet of steamers to carry the oil in bulk.5 Just as the brothers were revolutionizing crude oil trade, they began to include shipping kerosene to demand centers around the world. In 1896, the brothers renamed the company Shell Transport and Trading Co.

By the late 1890s, business was booming, and the the company established its first refinery in Balikpapan, Indonesia in 1897 (known as Dutch Borneo at the time). In 1901, Shell Transport and Trading Co. merged with a smaller competitor—Royal Dutch—that had set up a sales organization in Asia. The company took the name the Royal Dutch Shell Group. The company’s operations—drilling, exploration and refining—expanded rapidly to various parts of the globe and since it has become one of the largest integrated energy companies in the world.


The American industrialist was responsible for building the largest refining operation in the U.S., which led to the spinoff of several different entities, each becoming some of the largest integrated oil companies in the world.

The company’s origins began in the early 1860s. Rockefeller and other associates owned refineries in Ohio (U.S.), producing kerosene for lamp lighting. Over the next 20 yr, the company expanded exponentially, controlling nearly 95% of refining operations in the U.S. By the mid-1890s, Standard Oil Co. had also become the dominant kerosene exporter to other parts of the globe, such as Asia. However, the company was eventually labeled a monopoly and was split into several entities that would eventually lead to the creation of Amoco, Chevron, Exxon, Mobil and Marathon.


Using fertilizers for agricultural significantly expanded in the 1800s/early 1900s. However, the primary sources to develop ammonia—niter and guano—were not adequate to satisfy demand; therefore, a new process was needed to produce adequate amounts of ammonia and nitrates. This challenge was solved by the German chemist Fritz Haber in 1909 and later commercialized and expanded by Carl Bosch of BASF.

Haber conducted significant research in the early 1900s on the synthesis of ammonia from nitrogen and hydrogen. The process requires high temperatures, high pressure and catalysts. Intense research was led by Carl Bosch. After a few years of trial-and-error, the process was a success, and the first ammonia synthesis plant went into operations in Oppau, Germany in 1913.7

The Haber-Bosch process—still in use today—enabled BASF to become the first company to employ high-pressure technology. The Oppau facility’s success with ammonia production expanded to include a second site in Leuna, Germany. This site would not only utilize the Haber-Bosch process to produce ammonia but would also be instrumental in the research and development of synthetic gasoline from the hydrogenation of lignite.


William Burton was an American chemist who is credited for inventing a viable thermal cracking process. In 1910, he and Robert Humphreys developed their own thermal cracking process while working at Standard Oil of Indiana’s Whiting refinery—Vladimir Shukhov (Russia) holds the earliest patent for thermal cracking, which he invented in 1891. However, the Shukhov Cracking Process found little adoption since lighter fractions (e.g., gasoline) did not exist at the time.

According to literature8, Burton’s thermal cracking process involved heating crude oil in a still to 371°C–399°C (700°F–750°F). The petroleum vapors were regulated through a valve system that maintained constant pressure through the entire process. Once the fractions were evaporated, they gathered through a condenser. Lastly, the still was opened and the carbon deposits were collected. The process produced primarily gasoline, gasoil, residual fuel oil and petroleum coke.8 The Burton process was used extensively for more than 20 yr, until the creation of catalytic cracking.


The Austrian-born chemist, Hermann Francis Mark, is well-known for his contributions to the development of polymer science, which he devoted more than 60 yr of his life to. While working with IG Farben in Germany, Mark worked on experiments on the commercialization of polymers such as polystyrene, polyvinyl chloride and the first synthetic rubbers.8

After escaping Nazi Germany, Mark found his way to the U.S. and started classes on polymers at the Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn, later founding the Polymer Research Institute, which was the first facility devoted to polymer research. For his lifetime of work, he received the U.S. National Medal of Science in 1979.


Otto Röhm was a German chemist and pharmacist that founded Röhm and Hass AG. His experiments with methyl methacrylate (MMA) led to the development of Plexiglas.

After successfully developing and marketing Oropon, a more hygienic and efficient way of staining leather, Röhm focused his sights on plastics research. While working with Walter Bauer, researchers conducted an experiment polymerizing MMA between two layers of glass in a water quench. The result was a clear plastic sheet that was lighter than glass but much less prone to shatter. The material, called Plexiglas, would first be used as a substitute for glass in military aircraft, eventually being used in many industrial and commercial applications.


With the aide of E. A. Prudhomme, French engineer Eugene Houdry is known as a pioneer in catalytic cracking. After serving in WWI in the French artillery division and later in the tank corps, Houdry worked in his father’s steel business, as well as raced cars. His passion led him on a pathway to improving engine performance.

Prior to Houdry’s discovery, thermal cracking was the primary refining process to produce gasoline. However, many researchers and analysts feared that thermal cracking was insufficient to satisfy increasing global demand for gasoline. Houdry and Prudhomme’s research led to the development of the fixed-bed catalytic cracking unit. Operations of the 15,000-bpd unit began at Sun Oil’s Marcus Hook refinery in Pennsylvania (U.S.) in 1936. Approximately 50% of the 15,000-bpd unit produced high-octane gasoline, which was double the production of conventional thermal processes.9 The novel process produced high-octane gasoline—the Houdry unit could produce 100-octane aviation gasoline, which provided U.S. military aircraft a significant advantage over Germany.


While working at IG Farben in the late 1930s, German chemist Otto Bayer conducted extensive polymer research that led to the discovery of polyurethane. One such experiment created a new polymer by reacting 1,8 octane diisocyanate with 1,4 butanediol. This new polymer, polyurethane, was first used as coatings and adhesives. It was a suitable replacement for rubber during World War 2 (WW2). Post-WW2, the product was used extensively in many applications, and is still widely used today. This includes in insulation, building materials, adhesives, coatings and clothing, among others.


The Nobel Prize-winning German chemist is best known for his research on macromolecules, which he characterized as polymers. Staudinger also discovered ketenes, which would later be used to produce antibiotics.10

Staudinger hypothesized that polymers were linked end-to-end. His work with high-molecular weight compounds provided the foundation for polymer chemistry. He authored hundreds of scientific papers and several books on topics such as macromolecular chemistry and biology. His research on macromolecular chemistry earned him a Nobel Prize in 1953.


The American chemist started work at DuPont in the late 1920s. His primary focus was on polymer research. Under his tenure, DuPont would produce several long-lasting discoveries that would revolutionize the chemical industry.

In 1930, Carothers and his staff conducted experiments and research on an acetylene polymer. The goal of the research was to create synthetic rubber. After several tests, the group produced a substance that resembled rubber, which later took the name Neoprene.

Carothers’ group was also credited with producing the first synthetic silk. This synthetic polymer would later be called polyester, which is still in use today.

By the mid-1930s, Carothers produced fibers comprised of amine, hexamethylene diamine and adipic acid. These new strong, elastic fibers were called polymer 6,6 (or nylon 66). Nylon first became a household product as women’s hosiery, later being used in the U.S. war effort to produce parachutes and tents. Over the next several decades, nylon would be used extensively as a combined fabric in fashion and apparel, as well as in several industrial applications—the global nylon industry market size is forecast to reach more than $46 B by the late 2020s.10,11


The Belgian chemist and industrialist is known for developing the ammonia-soda process to manufacture soda ash on a commercial scale. The process was invented by Ernest and his brother Alfred in the early 1860s. In 1863, the brothers founded Solvay and Cie, opening their first soda ash plant in Couillet, Belgian shortly thereafter.12

Soda ash was widely used in several industrial applications. The wide use of the material enabled the Solvay brothers to expand operations into other countries, such as Austria, Germany, Russia, the UK and the U.S. By 1900, 95% of soda ash consumption around the world was produced by the Solvay process. Many of these plants are still in use today.


The American self-taught chemist is known for developing volcanized rubber, which revolutionized the industry. Goodyear’s dive into better rubber materials began while visiting the Roxbury India Rubber Co. in New York (U.S.). After examining life vests, he believed he could improve the valves on the vests. However, the store manager made the comment to Goodyear that he would be better off inventing a better rubber.13

Over the next several years, Goodyear worked tirelessly on developing better rubber, even going nearly bankrupt in the process. However, while working at the Eagle India Rubber Co., Goodyear accidentally discovered the vulcanization of rubber by combining rubber and sulfur over a hot stove.6 Once heated, the rubber hardened. In 1844, he finally perfected the process and was given a patent for his invention—the process was called vulcanization after Vulcan, the Roman god of fire.13 His work led to the development of a vulcanized rubber producing hub in the northeast U.S., leading to the Goodyear company being named in his honor in the late 1890s.


Waldo Semon was an American chemist whose detour with assigned laboratory research at B. F. Goodrich led to the development of vinyl—the second best-selling plastic in the world. Dr. Semon’s original research project was to coat metal with synthetic rubber. However, having exhausted his possibilities with rubber, he began experimenting with synthetic polymers, including polyvinyl chloride (PVC). Dr. Semon heated the stiff polymer in a high boiling solvent, obtaining a jelly-like substance that was elastic but not adhesive. PVC was more durable than crude rubber and Semon continued experimenting with it until he finally succeeded, in his first breakthrough, in plasticizing the substance and making it highly resilient. In his second breakthrough, he succeeded in making the material moldable into different shapes, giving the world its second-most employed plastic. Goodrich commercialized this product under the trademark Koroseal,14 making shock-absorber seals, electric-wire insulation and coated-cloth products.

Semon’s success with vinyl did not deter his original research. By 1934, he had invented over 100 methods of affixing synthetic rubber to metal. He continued to lead teams of researchers to invent other families of plastics, which earned him 116 U.S. patents15 and the Charles Goodyear medal in 1944.16 Throughout his career, he was known for his devotion and support of science education in schools.


Frederic Stanley Kipping was a British chemist whose pioneering work in the chemistry of silicones formed the basis of 40 yr of continued research at the interface of organic and inorganic chemistry and the commercial development and application of silicones. He was the chief demonstrator in chemistry at the City and Guilds of London Institute and later became a professor of chemistry at University College, Nottingham. Kipping’s research on optically active compounds resulted in his interest and study of organic silicon compounds at Nottingham during the early 1900s. His work was published in a series of 51 journal papers and formed the basis for pioneering research that led to the development of synthetic rubber and silicone-based industries.17 With exceptional water resistance, high-temperature stability silicones found a variety of early applications as synthetic rubber, hydrophobic coatings, greases and lubricants.18


Dr. James Franklin Hyde, an American chemist and inventor, is credited with the commercialization of the silicone industry. His research combines organic and inorganic chemistry and the advantages of plastics and glass to create silicones, as an advanced commercial product. Glass is silicon-based, temperature and moisture-resistant, chemically inert and dielectric, while plastics are carbon-based, strong, durable and moldable. Dr. Hyde’s silicone resins exhibit a combination of resistance to water, ultraviolet light, microbial growth and thermal conductivity, while being strong and stable. The substance instantly became applicable in a variety of applications like greases, lubricants, insulators, sealants, waxes and rubbers, among others.

Dr. Hyde’s research built upon Dr. Eugene Sullivan’s radical idea of producing a hybrid material by combining the advantages of glass with those of organic plastics to create an array of organosilicon compounds. Dr. Hyde recognized the commercial importance of some of Kipping’s observations and applied them to forge his hybrid technology. His work led to the formation of Dow Corning, an alliance between the Dow Chemical Co. and Corning Glass Works that was specifically created to produce silicone products in 1943.19 At Dow Corning, Dr. Hyde led numerous innovations throughout the mid-20th century, with applications in industries such as automobiles, construction, aerospace, cookware and pharmaceuticals.

Besides silicone compounds, his other notable contributions include a flame hydrolysis method of making fused silica, a high-quality glass employed initially in telescopes and later used in aeronautics, advanced telecommunications, and computer chips. Dr. Hyde was honored with the Perkin Medal, finished his career credited with around 120 patents and was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame.20


Vladimir Nikolayevich Ipatieff was a Russian and American chemist who made significant contributions to the field of petroleum chemistry and catalysis. Ipatieff made the important discovery that chemical reactions were influenced by the walls of the container in which they were taking place. One of his noted reaction discoveries was when he found that alcohol flowing through a heated iron reaction coil caused primary, secondary and tertiary alcohols to be dehydrogenated producing aldehydes, ketones and alkenes, respectively. This reaction was absent when the same alcohol was flowing through a quartz tube. He called this phenomenon ‘contact reactions,’ which we now know as heterogeneous catalysis.

Ipatieff discovered that catalyst efficiency could be enhanced by dispersing catalyst particles on inert support and including small amounts of zinc or copper on the support. Most industrial reactions employ catalysts dispersed on support, along with additives or promoters. He also demonstrated that g-alumina can function as an effective dehydration catalyst, especially in ethanol to ethylene reactions. This discovery led to the development of methods for converting ethanol to alkenes, such as butadiene, which is used in the manufacture of rubber. In the 1940s, these processes were used in the commercial production of butadiene and are still being used today.

Ipateiff made another seminal innovation in chemistry by developing high-pressure autoclaves, often referred to as ‘Ipatieff bombs.’8 Ipatieff used these high-pressure autoclaves to synthesize commodity chemicals in processes that were significantly less expensive than traditional methods. He published more than 300 research papers and received more than 200 patents.22 Ipateiff’s work at UOP—in collaboration with Herman Pines, especially their breakthrough in fuel chemistry—is his most significant contribution to petroleum chemistry and refining.


Herman Pines was a Polish-American chemist whose work in understanding the chemistry of hydrocarbons and catalysis laid the groundwork for producing high-octane fuels. Paraffins were considered inert substances, with little or no reaction affinity. His research led to the development of processes for paraffin isomerization, aromatic alkylation and base-catalyzed organic reactions. Pines developed a method for catalytic conversion of paraffins, such as n-butane to isobutane. He also demonstrated low temperatures catalysis by successfully reacting isobutane with olefins in the presence of sulfuric acid as a catalyst at low temperatures. The combination of isomerization and alkylation proved to be the breakthrough in developing high-octane fuel initially for aviation and later commercialization in 1941.23

Pines joined UOP in 1930, which began his long collaboration with Dr. Vladimir Ipatieff.24 They worked on understanding complex reactions affected by temperature, acid concentration and ratio of acid relative to other compounds. Pines used pure hydrocarbons in his research instead of petroleum fractions to understand mechanisms for dehydration of alcohols on alumina, aromatization of alkanes, hydrogen transfer reactions in aromatic hydrocarbons and several other acid and base catalyzed hydrogenation, aromatization and dehydrogenation reactions. Pines’ research team studied a variety of transformations, including polymerization, alkylation, cyclization, additions, eliminations and hydride transfer reactions. Upon leaving UOP in 1953, he continued working on understanding and describing hydrocarbon reaction mechanisms and heterogenous catalysis at Northwestern University as the Ipatieff Professor. He published nearly 265 scientific papers and received 145 patents.23


Vladimir Haensel was an American chemical engineer most known for his invention of the Platforming process—a platinum catalyzed process for reforming hydrocarbons into gasoline. In 1947, he demonstrated that 0.01 platinum on alumina can be used as a stable, active and effective catalyst with long life and high in situ regeneration efficiency.25 Platinum on alumina functioned as a dual-functional catalyst, where platinum provides excellent hydrogenation and dehydrogenation activity and the unsaturated hydrocarbons formed could be isomerized to rings on the acidic alumina. Associated major process advantages were a high yield of hydrogen, a valuable and environmentally friendly product aiding sulfur removal and high yield of aromatics, valuable for downstream plastics and petrochemicals industries.

Haensel’s method for producing high-octane fuel eliminated tetraethyl lead as an anti-knock additive; made transportation fuel efficient, cheaper and environment friendly; and replaced toxic coal tar processing by generating an aromatics pool for the plastics industry. Haensel is also known for the program he established as Director of Research at UOP,26 which led to the development of catalytic converters for automobiles.


John Rex Whinfield (left) and James Tennant Dickson (right) investigated thermoplastic polyesters while working in the laboratories of the Calico Printers’ Association Ltd. from 1939–1941.27 They produced and patented the first polyester fiber in 1941, named Terylene, which equaled or even surpassed the toughness and resilience of nylon.

In the late 1930s, there was significant emphasis on finding an alternative to Carother’s aliphatic nylon fiber. Aromatic polyesters had remained largely unexplored during this time. By 1939, there was enough research evidence to support micro crystallinity as essential for the formation of strong synthetic fibers. The need for molecular symmetry in forming microcrystalline polymers formed the basis for Whinfield and Dickson’s research approach in using an aromatic polymer with a sufficiently high melting temperature for the manufacturing of synthetic fiber. Whinfield and Dickson discovered a method to condense terephthalic acid and ethylene glycol to yield a new polymer that could be drawn into fibers. Their patent was published in 1946.28

Whinfield joined Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI) in 1947 and ICI manufactured Terylene, while rival Dupont produced their own version of the polyester fiber commercialized as Dacron.15


Charles A. Stone and Edwin S. Webster—friends, electrical engineers and MIT classmates of 1888—founded Massachusetts Electrical Engineering Company, one of America’s first engineering consulting firms. The company was renamed Stone & Webster and grew to an engineering services company providing engineering, construction, environmental, and plant operation and maintenance services.

By the early 1950s, the company was involved with several noteworthy oil and gas, petrochemical and power generation projects, including 27 hydroelectric power generation projects and interstate gas pipelines in the U.S.29 The company also worked on various projects in chemical and plastics processing in the U.S., Canada, Japan and other countries serving the growing demand for plastics. Their efforts to standardize designs in areas of proven success and building project teams were successfully applied to address problems that developed in the energy supply sector in the mid- to late-1960s. These were used in the design of synthetic natural gas plants, an LNG distribution center, and demonstration projects in coal and oil gasification.

Stone & Webster was acquired and integrated into The Shaw Group in 2000. In 2012, the energy and chemical business, and process technologies and associated oil and gas engineering capabilities of The Shaw group were acquired by Technip.29 Today, the company is known as Technip Energies.


Donald Campbell, Eger Murphree, Homer Martin and Charles Tyson—often called the ‘Four Horsemen’—are credited with the landmark invention of fluid catalytic cracking (FCC). The FCC process revolutionized the refining industry by providing an efficient process to increase the yield of high-octane gasoline from crude oil. Their invention was awarded a U.S. patent and described as ‘a method of and apparatus for contacting solids and gases.’30

During the late 1930s, Exxon Research & Engineering Co. (ER&E) was looking for ways to improve high-octane gasoline yield. Chemical engineering professors at MIT—Warren K. Lewis and Edwin R. Gilliland—suggested that a low-velocity gas flow through a powder may lift it enough to cause it to flow like a liquid.1 Campbell, Martin, Murphree and Tyson at ER&E focused on the idea of a fluidized catalyst to innovate a design that would ensure a steady and continuous cracking operation. This idea led the four inventors to design a fluidized solids reactor bed with a pipe transfer system between the reactor and regenerator unit in which the catalyst is decoked and regenerated for reuse. The solids (catalyst) and gases (vaporized oil) are in continuous contact as they move upward in fluidized flow while cracking occurs. The hydrocarbon chains are split into smaller pieces, and the cracked molecules are further distilled to produce gasoline, heating oil, fuel oil, propane, butane and chemical feedstocks that are instrumental in producing a variety of petrochemical products.

The four inventors developed the process in 1942, and the first commercial FCC facility went online on May 25, 1942.31 Their invention was not only extremely important but also timely, as it enabled refineries to produce and supply enough high-octane fuel to aid U.S. and Allied forces during World War 2 (WW2). FCC technology also led to the rapid buildup of butadiene production, which was used by ER&E for making synthetic butyl rubber, another technology that was vital during that era. The first commercial FCC plant processed 13,000 bpd of heavy oil, making 275,000 gal of gasoline.32 FCC is widely employed today around the world and continues to evolve as the market for high-performance clean fuel demand increases.

Donald Campbell was an American engineer who was always fascinated by inventing and solving problems. He attended Iowa State University, then MIT and the Harvard Business School. He worked for 25 yr at ER&E, with a total of 41 yr at Exxon. He retired as Assistant to the Vice President of New Areas of Research, with 30 patents to his credit.32

Eger Murphree, a graduate in chemistry and a teacher, joined Standard Oil of New Jersey (later ER&E) in 1930. With his phenomenal work at ER&E and as co-inventor of FCC technology, he rose to serve as the President of ER&E from 1947–1962.33 He is widely recognized as a leader in the field of synthetic toluene, butadiene and hydrocarbon synthesis, FCC and fluid hydroforming.33

Homer Martin was a chemical engineer who earned a BS degree from the Armour Institute and an MS and PhD from the University of Michigan. He joined ER&E in 1937 and became one of the most productive inventors, garnering 82 patents until his retirement in 1973.34

Charles Tyson received his BS and MS degrees in chemical engineering from MIT and joined ER&E in 1930. He was the Director of the Petroleum Development Division and later the Special Assistant to the Vice President of ER&E. His work, primarily focusing on petroleum processing, earned him more than 50 patents until his retirement in 1962.31


American research chemists J. Paul Hogan and Robert Banks discovered crystalline polypropylene (PP) and created a process for making high-density polyethylene (HDPE) while working at Phillips Petroleum in 1951.35 Their breakthrough invention, although serendipitous, was not accidental. In the wake of WW2 and diminishing oil demand, Phillips Petroleum was involved in concerted efforts to investigate the uses of natural gas liquids (NGLs). Hogan and Banks were studying processes by which propylene and ethylene could be converted to valuable gasoline-like materials, so they started investigating the use of catalysts to do so.

In June 1951, they were experimenting by adding a small amount of chromium oxide to a nickel oxide catalyst and fed propylene with a propane carrier through the catalyst-packed tube. While pure nickel oxide yielded the expected product of low-molecular weight hydrocarbons, the chromium-modified catalyst produced a white solid—a new material, crystalline PP. With this new discovery, they pivoted research efforts from gasoline to plastics and used the chromium catalyst to produce an ethylene polymer. Within a year, they created the process for making HDPE—the safest, hardest and most heat-resistant plastic created at the time using much lower operating pressure than branched low-density PE. Phillips launched their product as Marlex® in 1954.36 Their invention revolutionized the consumer plastics industry and launched Phillips, an oil company, as a manufacturer of polyolefin plastics. HDPE is extensively used in packaging, commodity plastics, toys, tools, furniture, auto parts and a variety of other applications.

Hogan received the Pioneer Chemist Award and is credited with 52 U.S. patents.37 Hogan and Banks together received the Perkin Medal in 1987, the Heroes of Chemistry award by the American Chemical Society in 1989 and were inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2001.38


In 1953, German chemist Karl Ziegler employed a catalyst consisting of a mixture of titanium tetrachloride and an alkyl derivative of aluminum to create a high molecular weight, high melting point and straight-chain PE. His pioneering research with organometallic compounds, which made industrial production of high-quality PE possible, won him the 1963 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, which he shared with Giulio Natta.39

Ziegler’s research established new polymerization reactions; enabled the syntheses of durable, higher melting, unbranched polymers; and laid the groundwork for several useful industrial processes. He combined classical organic chemistry with physical and analytical experimental methods in his phenomenal work on polymerization reactions.

Ziegler began his work on carbon compounds and organometallic chemistry during his professorship at the University of Heidelberg, which he continued after joining as the Director of the Max-Planck-Institut in Mülheim in 1943.40 Between 1952 and 1953, Ziegler’s research group tested various organoaluminium compounds and discovered that nickel was the cause of the chain-ending reaction. They further investigated to find a reagent to suppress this chain termination reaction, which led them to discover that titanium, under mild atmospheric conditions, produced rigid, high-melting unbranched PE.

Besides his work with organometallic compounds, he is also known for his research in the field of radicals with trivalent carbon and synthesis of multi-membered ring systems, which earned him the Liebig medal in 1935.40 One of the many awards Ziegler received was the reputed Werner von Siemens Ring in 1960 for expanding the scientific knowledge of and the technical development of new synthetic materials.39 Ziegler was able to take his discovery to industrial markets. By 1958, he was reaping the benefits of approximately two dozen licenses.41


Giulio Natta, an Italian scientist and chemical engineer, extended Ziegler’s method to other olefins. Based on his own findings on the reaction mechanism of polymerization, he developed further variations of the Ziegler catalyst. For his contribution to the field of high polymers, he shared the Nobel Prize in Chemistry with Karl Ziegler in 1963.42 Commercial Ziegler-Natta catalysts include many mixtures of halides of transition metals, especially titanium, chromium, vanadium and zirconium, with organic derivatives of nontransition metals, particularly alkyl aluminum compounds.43

Natta’s early research career focused on studying solids by x-rays diffraction (XRD) and electron diffraction. He later employed the same expertise to study catalysts and the structure of high organic polymers. By 1938, he began investigating macromolecules—polymerization of olefins and the kinetics of subsequent concurrent reactions.44 In 1953, after he received financial aid from the large Italian chemical company Montecatini, he extended Ziegler’s research on organometallic catalysts to stereospecific polymerization.44 These studies led to the development of isotactic PP, a thermoplastic polymer of highly regular molecular structure with commercially important properties of high strength and a high melting point. In 1957, Montecatini produced this polymer on an industrial scale at their Ferrara plant.44 Natta’s creation was commercially marketed as a plastic material by the name of Moplen, as a synthetic fiber by the name of Meraklon, as a monofilament by the name of Merakrin, and as packing film by the name of Moplefan.44

Natta discovered new classes of polymers and used XRD to determine the exact arrangement of chains in the lattice of the new crystalline polymers he discovered. He created polymers with sterically ordered structure—isotactic, syndiotactic and di-isotactic polymers and linear nonbranched olefinic polymers and copolymers with an atactic structure.

Natta is also known for his later research that led to two different routes for the synthesis of new elastomers: by polymerization of butadiene into cis-1,4 polymers with a high degree of steric purity, and by copolymerization of ethylene with other a-olefins (propylene), originating extremely interesting materials such as saturated synthetic rubbers. Natta published 700 research papers of which about 500 focus on stereoregular polymers. He also received several awards and has many patents in different countries to his credit.44


Dr. Hermann Schnell was a German scientist at Bayer who discovered the synthesis reaction of a new plastic—polycarbonate from co-monomers bisphenol A and phosgene. The new thermoplastic polymer—polycarbonate—has superior strength, toughness and impact resistance. Despite its resistance to breaking and splintering, it is lightweight, mostly optically transparent and can be easily molded or thermoformed. Unlike most thermoplastics, it can undergo large plastic deformations without cracking or breaking. With these properties, it is used in a variety of daily applications such as construction materials; electronic, auto, aircraft and security components; and optical lenses.45

Schnell studied under Nobel laureate and chemist Herman Staudinger. Soon after graduating, he joined the research and development department at Bayer AG, Leverkusen, Germany. Shortly thereafter, he moved to the lab at Uerdingen where he and his research team discovered the synthesis reaction of polycarbonate. The official patent for polycarbonate synthesis was granted in 1953 and was registered under the brand name Makrolon® on April 2, 1955.46 Bayer started industrial-scale production of Makrolon® at its plant in Uerfingen, Germany in 1958.46

Schnell became the department leader at Bayer research at just 36 yr of age and was appointed department head of Bayer’s entire central research facility in Leverkusen in 1971. He retired from Bayer in 1975.46


Frederick W. Stavely was a chemical research scientist who is credited with the discovery of polyisoprene. Stavely was a researcher at the Firestone Tire & Rubber Co in 1953 where, while investigating the reaction of butyl lithium on butadiene, he discovered that the polymerization of isoprene with metallic lithium produced polyisoprene with high cis content. High cis content is indicative of enhanced strain crystallization, which is closer to natural rubber, also with high cis content. This discovery was important during WW2 because other synthetic compounds did not exhibit the crystallization effect that was achieved in Stavely’s process. Stavely served as Chairman of the American Chemical Society Rubber Division. In 1972, Stavely received the Charles Goodyear Medal in recognition of this discovery.48


Edith Marie Flanigen, an American chemist, is known for her synthesis of zeolites for molecular sieves. Molecular sieves are crystalline microporous structures with large internal void volumes and molecular-sized pores that can separate or filter complex mixtures, as well as function as catalysts for chemical reactions. These compounds find numerous applications in the refining and petrochemical industries.

Flanigen joined Union Carbide in 1952 and began working on molecular sieves in 1956.49 During her 42-yr career at Union Carbide and UOP, Flanigen invented or co-invented more than 200 novel synthetic materials but is best known for her substantial contributions to the development of zeolite Y, an aluminosilicate sieve used to make oil refining more efficient, cleaner and safer.50 Zeolite Y is essentially employed in the cracking of crude oil to produce commercially valuable products like gasoline and diesel in a cleaner and more efficient manner. Her invention finds application in purification and contaminant removal and can be used to make ethylene and propylene, which are important raw materials to the petrochemical industry.

Besides her work on molecular sieves, Flanigen co-invented a synthetic emerald and pioneered the use of mid-infrared spectroscopy for analyzing zeolite structures. She has been quoted to say that one of her strengths throughout her career has been her ability to discover new material and see it through to commercialization, from envisioning processes for manufacturing it on a large scale to developing it for industrial application.

Flanigen became the first woman to hold the position of Senior Corporate Research Fellow at Union Carbide in 1982. She retired in 1994 with 108 U.S. patents in the field of petroleum research and product development.50,51

In 1992, she became the first woman to receive the prestigious Perkin medal, the most distinguished honor in applied chemistry.22 Flanigen was the recipient of the $100,000 Lemelson-MIT Lifetime Achievement Award in 2004 and was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in the same year.22 In 2014, President Obama presented Flanigen with the National Medal of Technology and Innovation for her contributions to science and technology.51


Robert W. Gore was an American engineer, inventor and entrepreneur who is best known for his breakthrough invention of expanded polytetrafluoroethylene (ePTFE). Gore’s discovery that PTFE could be transformed into an entirely different physical state led to a phenomenally new direction in material science, resulting in commercially well-known products such as GORE-TEX fabric, a water-resistant and breathable fabric known for its applications in sporting and outdoor activities. Several important products have grown from ePTFE such as new electrical cables, industrial filters, medical implants, textiles woven from ePTFE fiber for space exploration, laminated fabrics for outdoor activities, emergency response, defense and ELIXIR guitar strings.

Gore’s father was a Dupont employee and he often experimented with DuPont materials in his basement exploring new ways to use them. While he was a sophomore at the University of Delaware in 1957,52 Gore helped his father develop a successful process to use PTFE to insulate multiple copper conductors to create the ribbon cable, a product highly applied in the growing computer industry. Gore’s process resulted in the product MULTI-TET cable and led his family to found W.L Gore & Associates in 1958,52 operating from the basement of their home. The company expanded its capacity with the growing demand and applications of MULTI-TET and TETRA-ETCH, a pipe thread tape, and Gore earned his first patent as the inventor. After completing his doctorate in chemical engineering, he joined W.L. Gore & Associates as the technical and research leader. In 1969, while researching a process for stretching extruded PTFE into pipe-thread tape, he discovered that the polymer could be expanded. Gore’s discovery of ePTFE resulted from a ‘frustrated hard yank’ after a series of failed experiments to stretch heated rods of PTFE by 10%. This serendipitous discovery was that instead of slow stretching, the application of a sudden accelerating yank stretched the PTFE by 800%, creating a microporous PTFE that was 70% air.

Gore’s earned nine patents for his phenomenal work with fluoropolymers and was elected to the National Academy of Engineering in 1995 for his technical achievements.53 He was also awarded the highest award in the United States designated for an industrial chemist, the Society for Chemical Industry’s Perkin Medal in 2005 and the 2003 Winthrop-Sears Medal, from The Chemists’ Club and the Chemical Heritage Foundation, now the Science History Institute.53


Charles J. Plank and Edward Rosinski invented a zeolite catalyst for catalytic cracking that revolutionized the petroleum industry by increasing the yield of gasoline by 40%54 from every barrel of oil run through a catalytic cracker. Thermal cracking, or the application of heat to petroleum, is the process by which the larger molecules “crack” or break down to form simpler molecules like those found in commercially useful products like gasoline. Plank and Rosinski, while researching catalysts for Mobil Oil (now ExxonMobil) in the 1950s,55 idealized the use of porous clay-like zeolites that bear microscopic channels close to the hydrocarbon length as catalysts for petroleum cracking. In 1961, it was discovered that certain crystalline zeolites could be combined into a binder and converted into a super-efficient cracking catalyst.54 Zeolites present superior activity and selectivity at low severity, resulting in significantly high gasoline yield. Moreover, the increased yields are obtained without increasing gas or coke formation, the undesired byproducts of cracking. With higher efficiency and fewer process risks than traditional methods during those times, their process marked a major step forward for the petrochemical industry.

In July 1960, Plank and Rosinski’s patent “Catalytic Cracking of Hydrocarbons with a Crystalline Zeolite Catalyst Composite” was submitted and was officially patented on July 7, 1964. Mobil named it “Zeolite Y” and used it in commercial processes in 1964.55 Through the mid-1980s, nearly 35% of U.S. gasoline was being produced via zeolite catalytic cracking.55

Today this catalyst, the first containing crystalline zeolite, is extensively used in all cracking units in the U.S. and around the world. Although catalysts had long been used in oil refining, Plank and Rosinski’s catalyst made a significant impact on the efficiency of the cracking process and provided a remarkable increase in gasoline yield from crude oil.

Charles J. Plank was born in Calcutta, India and later moved to Lafayette, Indiana. In 1936, he received a BS degree in mathematics, chemistry and physics from Purdue University.5 He later earned an MS degree and in 1942, he received his Ph.D. in physical chemistry from Purdue University.56

In 1941, Plank joined the research department of Socony-Vacuum Oil Company, the predecessor of Mobil Oil Corporation. He was promoted as a senior scientist in 1970,55 the highest scientific post, at Mobil’s Research and Development Laboratory. Throughout his career as a scientist and technologist, he was awarded 83 U.S. patents and several hundred in other countries.56

Edward Rosinski was born in Gloucester County, New Jersey and aspired to be a chemical engineer while still in high school. Upon graduating in 1939, he joined the Vacuum Oil Company as a petroleum engineer. After working with a couple of instrument companies in the interim, he returned to Socony-Vacuum as a lab technician in 1947, resumed his education, and in 1956 received a BS degree in chemical engineering at Drexel.57

In 1972, he was promoted to senior research associate, the company’s second-highest scientific post. Rosinski was awarded 76 U.S. patents, of which many were in the field of zeolite catalytic technology.57

Rosinski and Plank’s paper published in the journal Industrial and Engineering Chemistry was voted as one of the 12 most important papers published in the journal.55 In 1979, Plank and Rosinski were inducted as the 30th and 31st members of the National Inventors Hall of Fame for US Patent No. 3,140,249, “Catalytic Cracking of Hydrocarbons with a Crystalline Zeolite Catalyst Composite.”55


Albert Amatuzio was a passionate flyer and a visionary who invented the first synthetic motor oil under his company’s name Amsoil Inc. while still serving as a squadron commander of the Air National Guard. His invention brought synthetic lubrication to the automotive market and changed both the automotive and lubrication industries forever.

Amatuzio’s entrepreneurial bent surfaced at a young age as he devised several small ventures to support his family during the Great Depression, but his passion for flying led him to join the Naval Corps and then the Merchant Marine. In the post-war period, Amatuzio joined the Air Force, earned his wings and after a hiatus due to family reasons, joined the Duluth unit of the Air National Guard. He served as a fighter pilot for 25 yr and then as a squadron commander. He was honored as the country’s top pilot, winning the prestigious William Tell Air-to-Air Shootout competition and the Earl T. Rick Competitive Shootout.58

As a pilot, he gained knowledge about how jet engines survived on synthetic oil and envisioned that the same could be applied to other vehicles and equipment that people used in their daily lives. He believed that the same performance benefits would prove invaluable to cars, trucks and other combustion engines. Oil quality during those times was poor—with problems of low heat resistance, contribution to hard-start during cold weather and adverse effects on engine life and performance. He reasoned from his experience that only synthetic oils could avoid these adverse effects and improve engine performance.

Amatuzio’s ideas seemed radical and unnecessary at that moment. “They all thought I was at altitude too long without oxygen,” Amtuzio joked about his skeptics.58 However, with his unmatched resilience and tenacity, he dismissed the doubters and began his research and development efforts in 1963.58 By 1966, he formulated the first synthetic motor oil and founded his company Amsoil.59 In 1972, Amsoil’s tagline ‘The First in Synthetics®’ was launched as AMSOIL 10W-40 Synthetic Motor Oil became the world’s synthetic motor oil to meet American Petroleum Institute’s requirements.59

Amatuzio had changed the course of the entire automotive lubricant industry. His relentless efforts to bring the best choice to consumers led him to make AMSOIL a technological leader and create the AMSOIL dealer network. His product had met a lot of criticism for being unnecessary, disruptive and “fake,” but the founding of the dealer network in 1973 conveyed the benefits of synthetic lubes to consumers.

In 1994, he was honored as the pioneer of synthetic lubrication and inducted into the Lubricant’s Hall of Fame.60 He received the Natchman Award from the Independent Lubricant Manufacturers Association. A community man and a great philanthropist, Amatuzio is remembered through the Albert J. Amatuzio Research Center. The center located in Duluth Depot outlines local service history and includes photographs, journals, stories and biographies of veterans from northeastern Minnesota who served this nation from the Civil War through Iraq and Afghanistan.60


Stephanie Louise Kwolek, an inductee to the National Inventors Hall of Fame and National Women’s Hall of Fame, created the first family of synthetic fibers of exceptional strength and stiffness. Kwolek spearheaded the discovery, processing and development of high-performance aramid fibers. Kevlar, the best-known member of this class of fibers, is widely used in more than 200 applications, including protective bullet-proof vests, boats, airplanes, mooring ropes and fiber-optic cables and canoes.

Kwolek was born in New Kensington, Pennsylvania and was encouraged by her naturalist father to develop an early love for nature, math and science. She pursued a BS degree in chemistry from the Carnegie Institute of Technology and wanted to make a career in medicine.61 She joined DuPont as a researcher at the textile fibers laboratory aspiring to save money for medical school. However, her research focusing on creating stronger and stiffer fibers was extremely challenging and interesting and led to her decision to make chemistry a lifetime career.

Kwolek was working on developing high-performance fibers for extreme applications when she discovered that under certain conditions a large number of molecules of rod-like polyamides line up to form liquid crystalline solutions, which can be spun directly into oriented fibers of very high strength and stiffness. With this breakthrough came the development of Kevlar in 1965, the most acclaimed product of her research—a polymer fiber five times stronger than the same weight of steel and her discovery of a new branch of polymer science—liquid crystalline polymers.61 Her other noteworthy contributions include a low-temperature (0°C–40˚C) condensation process for synthetic fibers.61 Unlike the conventional melt condensation polymerization process used in preparing nylon, which was typically done at more than 200°C, the new lower-temperature polycondensation processes employed very fast-reacting intermediates, making it possible to prepare polymers that cannot be melted and only begin to decompose at temperatures above 400°C.

Kwolek received over 17 U.S. patents, including one for the spinning process for aramid fibers and five for the prototype from which Kevlar was created in 1965, and won many awards for her invention of Kevlar fiber technology.62 She was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 1994, received the American Innovator Award in 1994, National Medal of Technology in 1996, the Perkin Medal in 1997 and the Lemelson-MIT Lifetime Achievement Award in 1999.62 In 2003, she was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame.10

She retired in 1986 but continued to consult for DuPont and served on the committees of the National Research Council and the National Academy of Sciences.63

Kwolek continued to mentor women scientists and contributed to science education for young children. One of Kwolek’s most cited papers, co-authored with Paul W. Morgan, is “The Nylon Rope Trick” (Journal of Chemical Education, April 1959, 36:182–184).61 It describes a demonstration of condensation polymerization in a beaker at atmospheric pressure and room temperature—which is now a common demonstration in classrooms across the nation. In 2013, Edwin Brit Wyckoff published a childrens’ book telling her story as: The Woman Who Invented the Thread That Stops the Bullets: The Genius of Stephanie Kwolek.61


Nathaniel C. Wyeth was an American engineer and inventor who is credited with the invention of one of the most convenient and readily recyclable plastic products today—the plastic soda bottle. Wyeth invented or co-invented about 25 products and processes in plastics, textile fibers, electronic and mechanical systems.64

Nat Wyeth was born in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, into a family of artists but displayed an early interest in engineering by disassembling clocks and using their parts to make model speedboats, cutting up tin cans and soldering the pieces to make universal joints, and so on. His family recognized the budding inventor’s interest and encouraged him. He followed his interests to choose the University of Pennsylvania for its engineering program. During college, Wyeth built a 20-ft-long hydroplane boat that could reach speeds of 50 mph, resting on two pontoons and powered by a Ford V-8 engine.65 He joined General Motors upon graduation but soon chanced upon an opportunity to work as a field engineer for DuPont Corporation.

During his early days at DuPont, Wyeth excelled by inventing a plug-proof valve for the production machine and was transferred to the mechanical development lab. One of the first machines he designed was for the automatic manufacture of dynamite cartridges, which saved workers from exposure to poisonous nitroglycerin powder. Another notable invention was a machine bearing magnetized rollers, employed in the manufacture of a non-woven polypropylene fabric, Typar®.64

By 1967, Wyeth started working on his best-known invention, which began with his curiosity as to why plastic was not used for carbonated beverage bottles.65 Wyeth was aware that the fabrication process created weak spots in plastic containers, and they were therefore incapable of withstanding carbonation pressure. He took to hands-on experimentation to discover ways to make stronger plastic containers. He knew that stretching out nylon thread strengthened it by forcing its molecules to align. His challenge was to stretch plastic such that its molecules would align in two dimensions, rather than just one—biaxially. He succeeded in doing this by creating a preform mold for the bottle, which resembled a test tube with screw threads running in a diamond criss-cross pattern, instead of single spiral.64 As the plastic was extruded through this mold, the molecules aligned biaxially—just as Wyeth had intended. The criss-cross flow lines reinforced themselves, creating a uniformly strong product. He also replaced the polypropylene that was used typically for plastic bottles with polyethylene-terephthalate (PET), a polymer with superior elastic properties. He had created a petrochemical product that was light, clear, resilient, safe and eminently recyclable and laid the groundwork for future process developments in preforming, extrusion and manufacture of biaxially oriented polymer products.

Wyeth patented his process in 1973 and though recycling was not an avid idea that that time, the first PET soda bottle went into recycling soon in 1977.64 Today, recycled PET is widely used as synthetic fiber with a major part of it used in making polyester carpets: nearly half of the polyester carpet made in the U.S. today come from recycled PET bottles.66


Richard Morley was an American mechanical engineer and is considered one of the ‘fathers’ of the programmable logic controller (PLC). Morley designed the first PLC with his team Mike Greenberh, Jonas Landau and Tom Boissevain and called it 084, as it was their 84th project at Bedford Associates.67 The introduction of PLCs kicked-off the 3rd industrial revolution, leading to the development of an entire industry of digital control solutions.

In 1964, when Morley was unemployed and working in uninteresting design jobs, he decided to pursue his interest in engineering by starting his own consulting firm with his friend Geogre Schwenk under the name Bedford Associates. Initially, they worked with machine tool firms to help them transition into solid-state manufacturing. Eventually, Morley realized that the projects he worked on were similar and work became monotonous. He decided to use his creativity and engineering acumen to invent a controller that would automate industrial processes with multiple input/output arrangements in real-time and replace hard-wired relay controls.

During those times, manufacturing facilities were operated by relay control systems. Control rooms were large with walls full of relays, terminal blocks and wired connections. The main challenges were a lack of flexibility to make process changes and the extensive time required to adjust these changes. Morley managed to design the functions of a PLC that offered advantages of uninterrupted processing, flexibility, fast reaction time and direct mapping into memory—revolutionizing manufacturing process control. The PLC was designed to be robust under severe temperature and moisture conditions and used large metal fins to transfer out air, keeping electronics dirt free. The product was capable of operating as a modular digital controller and was hence named Modicon, a brand now owned by Schneider Electric.68

Morley has been widely recognized in numerous publications and awards from the International Society of Automation, Instrumentation, Systems, and Automation Society, the Franklin Institute, the Society of Manufacturing Engineers and the Engineering Society of Detroit.69 He was also inducted into the Manufacturing Hall of Fame. The Society of Manufacturing Engineers offers the Richard E. Morley Outstanding Young Manufacturing Engineer Award for outstanding technical accomplishments in the manufacturing profession by engineers aged 35 and under.69


Odo J. Stuger, an Austrian engineer and scientist, is recognized as the pioneer of modern-day automation and shares the credit as ‘father of PLC’ alongside Richard Morley. During 1958–1960,70 Sturger led his engineering team at Allen-Bradley in developing the programmable logic controller and also coined the acronym PLC for programmable logic controllers. Allen-Bradley became the pioneering leader in programmable logic controllers in the U.S., and PLC remains a registered trademark of the Allen-Bradley Company (now Rockwell Automation).

Struger’s work on PLCs was built upon the concepts studied in his doctoral research in “The process for quantitative handling of positioning errors in numerical control machines,” at Vienna University of Technology.70 His invention proved to be a ‘rugged industrial computer’ that, through precise numerical control of machinery, soon became ubiquitous in manufacturing environments across the world.

Struger was born in Carinthia, Austria, and studied at the Vienna University of Technology. In 1958, he moved to Milwaukee, Wisconsin (U.S.) to work as a research engineer at Allen-Bradley. Struger grew within the company and held the position of Vice President of technology until retirement in 1998.70 He was associated with the development of the National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA) standard for PLCs and IEC 1131-3 programming language standard. Struger has 50 patents to his credit in the U.S. and Canada. He received the Prometheus Award in 1996, authored more than 40 technical papers and is an inductee to the Automation Hall of Fame at the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry. To honor Struger’s legacy, Rockwell Automation established the Odo J. Struger Automation Award for future engineers’ exceptional advancements in the control and automation fields.71


John Mooney, an American chemical engineer, and Carl D. Keith, a chemist, created the three-way automotive catalytic converter while working at Engelhard Corporation in 1973 and solved a major environmental problem—making automobile exhaust 98% cleaner.72 An EPA report recognized this invention as one that helped save 100,000 lives and prevent many more cases of lung and throat ailments.73 Today, catalytic converters are the key-emissions control components in automobiles worldwide.

The earliest catalytic muffler was developed by Eugene Houdry as a generic device that could convert carbon monoxide (CO) and unburned hydrocarbons (UHCs) from automobile and industrial exhausts. Houdry launched his company Oxy-catalyst and his catalytic converter design was patented in 1962.74 However, fuel still contained tetraethyllead (TEL) as an anti-knock agent, which poisoned the catalyst in the converter. It took the passing of the Clean Air Act in 1970 and the ban of TEL for converters to be recognized and become a piece of standard equipment in automobiles.

Mooney and Keith, while working at Engelhard Corporation (acquired by BASF in 2006)75, developed the three-way catalytic converter, where the exhaust gas components are UHCs, and CO are oxidized and nitrogen oxides (NOx) are reduced to water, nitrogen and carbon dioxide (CO2). The inherent complexity of the reaction implied the need for a bulky two-stage converting system. Mooney, however, theorized that if the fuel-to-air ratio was correct, the exhaust would provide just the right amount of oxygen for a one-stage converter to treat all three pollutants at once.

Equipped with his idea and a ‘can-do’ attitude, Mooney garnered his supervisor Keith’s support to allow him to convince auto manufacturers to include an oxygen sensor to their engines. The sensor was intended to monitor fuel-to-air ratio at a level where the one-stage converter could function successfully. Volvo agreed to the proposal and soon the sensors were successfully incorporated into other automobiles, as well. The converter is a small can-shaped device that installs at the exhaust pipe under vehicles. A combination of rare-earth oxides and base metal oxides along with platinum and rhodium were used together in the catalyst. The engine exhaust passes over a specialized honeycomb-shaped structure, where a washcoat of catalyst materials acts as active sites for reactions. The design ensured an adequate amount of oxygen was offered for the oxidation and allowed all three pollutants to be targeted at once.

Both Keith and Mooney received the 2001 Walter Ahlstrom Prize and earned the National Medal of Technology in 2002 for their invention.75 Engelhard (now BASF) continues to lead the development of automotive emissions catalysts.


Margaret Wu is an industrial chemist who is known for the remarkable contributions she has made in the field of synthetic lubricants. Her research altered the way that automobile and industrial lubricants are designed and synthesized, producing products that provide superior machine protection, high efficiency and reduced waste oil. Wu trained as a chemical engineer at the National Taipei University of Technology in Taiwan and earned a doctorate in physical chemistry in Rochester. She joined Mobil in 1977 and in the mid-1980s began developing a new class of polyalphaolefin (PAO), a synthetic base oil used in synthetic lubricants.76

Wu attributed the ‘novelty’ of the synthetic lubricants she developed to their elegant chemical architecture, which is assembled in a uniform manner without extraneous side branching—earlier versions of synthetic lubricants had chemical structures with extensive side branching. In addition to lubricating properties, Wu’s series of new PAO synthetic base oil demonstrated greater wear prevention, heat resistance, oxidative stability and less friction in formulated products. This provided much-improved engine performance, oil life and overall fuel efficiency in addition to reduced engine wear and waste oil.

Today, lubricant products based on Wu’s work are used in a wide array of applications such as commercial vehicles, car engines, industrial machinery and wind turbines.76 Besides being a trailblazing industrial chemist who has contributed significantly to advanced synthetic lubricants, she has pioneered as one of the first women to work in this field. When she joined Mobil, she was one of only three women chemists with doctorate degrees.

She held the position of Senior Scientific Adviser, the first woman to achieve this position, which is the highest technical rank in her company. Over the course of her career, Wu earned more than 100 patents. Post-retirement, she continued as an emeritus and consultant until 2016 and was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2022.77


Irwin Lachman, Rodney Bagley and Ronald M. Lewis—a team of researchers working at Corning Glass Works Co.—invented the ceramic substrate inside catalytic converters. Their work was instrumental in developing efficient, feasible and the first-ever mass-produced automotive catalytic converters.

Catalytic converters are devices that convert combustion products in automotive exhaust to less environmentally polluting components. Their research was a response to the Clean Air Act of 1970 that aimed to reduce pollutants from automotive exhausts by 95%. The team’s invention enabled the automotive industry to meet these standards set by the Clean Air Act.78

Lachman, Bagley and Lewis used cellular ceramic technology to create the ceramic honeycomb that became the essential core component of catalytic converters. The team worked to develop a new ceramic material to achieve the key characteristics needed: high-temperature durability, low thermal expansion, low thermal conductivity at high temperatures, light weight and controlled porosity.

Lachman identified that ceramics could be ideally suited to meet the demands of the application. Their work leveraged the superior resistance of ceramic materials to dynamic and extreme temperature fluctuations and provided a well-designed surface for catalytic conversion of combustion products. Ceramics offer the unique property of very low thermal expansion, making them extremely resistant to thermal shock, which is a necessary requirement for durability.

Lewis discovered that inducing the proper preferred orientation of crystallites in the substrate is key to achieving low thermal expansion, thus high resistance to extreme temperature fluctuations. Ceramic also provides a textured surface for the catalyst, is phase stable, resistant to corrosion and can withstand very high operating temperatures.

Bagley developed the process and the extrusion die to make thin-walled, honeycombed cellular ceramic substrates. The design consists of thousands of cellular channels through the structure, allowing for a large surface area. The inside surface of the channels was coated with a catalyst for conversion of polluting fuel combustion products into less harmful emissions such as carbon dioxide (CO2), nitrogen and water vapor.

The ceramic substrate used a platinum catalyst and required the removal of lead from gasoline to avoid poisoning the catalyst. The substrate technology served two purposes: to reduce pollutants from the fuel combustion process by 95% and to reduce lead pollution. Today, every car company relies on ceramic technology to control exhaust emissions and the fundamental ceramic technology extends to substrates for trucks, buses, passenger vehicles and other similar applications. Since the 1970s, vehicles employing advanced emissions control through catalyst conversion have reduced pollutants by over 3 Bt worldwide.79

Lachman, Bagley and Lewis were inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2002 and received the National Medal of Technology in 2003.80


Larry Evans, Professor of chemical engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), is known as the founder of ASPEN Technology. In 1976, Evans led the Advanced System for Process Engineering (ASPEN) project as the principal investigator; founding Aspen Technology in 1981 after the project was completed.81 The ASPEN Project was a major research and development project initiated in response to the energy crises in the 1970s and funded at the cost of $6 million by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and 65 other companies in the process industry across the world.81 The objective of the project was to develop a third-generation process modeling and simulation system to create a state-of-the-art process simulator with advanced infrastructure and capabilities for any process industry. The project focused particularly on the technical and economic evaluation of proposed synthetic fuel processes.

Evans and his collaborators had a vision that computer-aided automation should be applied to chemical engineering. The potential application of that vision was in process engineering and manufacturing—the energy, chemicals and other industries that use a chemical process. This vision found an opportunity when market requirements changed following the oil shock and economic and political disruptions caused by it, which led to the creation of the Energy Laboratory at MIT.

Professor Evans built a team comprised of engineers, project faculty professional staff, post-docs and students, to develop software solutions to solve complex chemical engineering problems. The purpose of the ASPEN project was to develop a general process simulation system that could be used by chemical engineers across the process industries. The project resulted in a next-generation simulator that could simulate complex processes for highly non-ideal mixtures, solids, electrolytes, multi-phase systems, chemicals, coal conversions and synthetic fuel processes. In 1981, Evans and seven key members of his team founded Aspen Technology to license the technology from MIT and to further develop and commercialize it.82 Evans led the company as the Chief Executive Officer (CEO), fulfilling the company’s mission to provide cutting-edge software-based process engineering tools and technologies to enable processes engineers to design new processes and improve efficiency and productivity of existing plants.

Under his leadership, the company grew into the leading supplier of engineering, manufacturing and supply chain software. The goal of the company focused on process optimization and eventually broadened to include asset optimization and management. Evans has received several prestigious awards recognizing his performance and leadership at AspenTech. He was inducted into the National Academy of Engineering, named a high-technology Entrepreneur of the Year by Ernst & Young, and named a “Hero of Manufacturing” by FORTUNE magazine.82


Haren S. Gandhi was an engineer and an inventor who is known for his work in the field of automotive exhaust catalysts. The introduction of catalytic converters and subsequent pioneering work by Gandhi advanced emissions control technology significantly, leading to cleaner air worldwide.

While still attending graduate school at the University of Detroit, he joined the Ford Motor Co. as a research scientist and dedicated his research to advanced emissions control. He began his research in areas such as three-way catalysts (TWCs) which convert carbon monoxide to CO2 and hydrocarbons to CO2, nitrogen and water. Gandhi employed precious metal utilization and recycling to reduce the use of the most used catalysts (platinum, palladium and rhodium). Gandhi and his team also introduced the term “oxygen storage” to indicate how TWCs’ capacity can be expanded by adding material that can store oxygen during fuel-lean cycle and release oxygen under fuel-rich efforts. Gandhi’s research also showed evidence of catalytic poisoning from lead and helped hasten the ban of leaded gasoline.

Gandhi earned 61 patents and has received numerous awards, including the U.S. National Medal of Technology and Innovation in 2002.83 He was elected to the National Academy of Engineering (NAE) in 1999.83 He was one of the few employees designated as Henry Ford Technical Fellow. In 2010, the Ford Motor Co. introduced the Haren Gandhi Research and Innovation Awards to honor his contributions. He was inducted into the National Hall of Inventors in 2017.84


Heino Finkelmann is a retired German chemist who is known for his work in liquid crystalline elastomers. Although the liquid crystal state was first observed in late 1800s, the first classical application of liquid crystal polymers (LCPs) was Kevlar—a strong but light fiber applied in an array of applications including bulletproof vests.85 The primary driving force in developing LCPs was to incorporate them into displays. Finkelmann’s proposal to insert a flexible spacer between the main and side chains of the LCs helped create different nematic, smectic and cholesteric LC phases of side-chain LCPs (SCLCPs) which are useful functional materials.

P.G. de Gennes proposed liquid crystal elastomers (LCEs) in 1975, and Finkelmann and coworkers synthesized and established the properties of LCEs in 1981.85 LCEs caught the interest of researchers and industry alike. LCEs can be synthesized from polymeric precursors, as well as directly from monomers. They are highly responsive to heat, light and magnetic fields, and nanomaterials additives have been used to tailor the LCEs properties to generate response to specific stimuli. LCE films can be used as optical retarders, in 3D glasses, patterned retarders for transflective displays and flat-panel LC displays.

Finkelmann received several awards and honors including the Duisberg Memorial Prize from the Society of German Chemists in 1984, the Gay-Lussac Humboldt Price in 2000, Agilent technologies Europhysics prize of the European Physical Society in 2003, and the George William Gray medal of the British Liquid Crystal Society in 2006.86


Leo Baekeland was a Belgian-American chemist who is best known for the invention of Velox photographic paper in 1893 and Bakelite in 1907.87 He is called the father of the plastics industry due to his introduction of Bakelite, the world’s first synthetic plastic which marked the introduction of the Polymer Age.

Baekeland invented a process to develop photographic plates using water instead of other chemicals, patenting his technology in 1887. By 1891, he set up his own business working as a consulting chemist but returned to his old interest of producing paper that will enable enlarged pictures to be printed in artificial light. He successfully produced the first commercially successful photographic paper, Velox. He partnered with Leonard Jacobi and the Nepera Chemical Co. to commercialize his new product. The sales of Nepera to Eastman Kodak in 1899 enabled Baekeland to have enough funds to set up his own laboratory in New York. Baekeland developed a stronger diaphragm cell for a chloralkali electrolysis process. His contribution to an improved electrolysis cell was significant in that it led to the founding of the Hooker Chemical Co.

After the success of Velox, Baekeland was ready for a new project in chemical development and chose the field of synthetic resins. He followed the experimental results of Adolf von Baeyer and his failure in crystallizing, purifying or utilizing the ‘black guck’ these reactions produced. He began his own experiments while precisely controlling and studying the effects of temperature, pressure, molecular ratios and types of reactants used.

His first successful application was a synthetic replacement of shellac which he named Novolak. Although Baekeland determined that its properties were inferior and it failed commercially, it is still used as a photoresist. As Baekeland continued to experiment with various combinations of phenol and formaldehyde, he eventually produced a moldable plastic, Bakelite.

Bakelite was the first plastic that formed the class of plastics called thermosets. Due to the excellent heat resistance and electrical insulation properties of Bakelite, immediate commercial applications included radios, telephones and electrical insulators. Other notable advantages of Bakelite are its non-inflammable and inexpensive nature despite being more versatile in applications than other plastics. Since its invention, it has been used in a wide array of applications from engine parts to jewelry and electronics.

He received several awards and recognitions including the Perkin Medal in 1916, the Franklin medal in 1940 and was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 1978.88 He earned more than 100 patents and was awarded honorary degrees from the Universities of Pittsburgh and Edinburgh. HP


Hydrocarbon Processing would like to thank several institutions/companies for the use of archived images of industry pioneers. These include ACS science history, AspenTech, BASF, Bayer, the Canadian Petroleum Hall of Fame, Corning, Explore Pennsylvania History, Goodyear, Linde,  Michigan State University’s College of Natural Science Department of Chemistry, MIT Lemelson, MIT Museum, the National Inventors Hall of Fame, The Nobel Prize, Northwestern University, Nottingham Trent University, the Plastics Hall of Fame, Plastics Historical Society, Röhm and Hass AG, Science History and The National Academy of Engineers, Science History Institute, Shell, Solvay, University of Massachusetts and Wikipedia.


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