U’s ‘father of chemical engineering’ dies at 95

Neal Amundson led the chemical engineering department.

Sarah Nienaber

The “father of chemical engineering” and the man for whom Amundson Hall is named died last week after a career spanning more than seven decades.

Neal Amundson attended the University of Minnesota for less than $70 a semester in 1933. Since his time on campus, he became well-known for bringing mathematics into the field of chemical engineering.

He died last Wednesday at the age of 95.

Amundson was appointed as head of the UniversityâÄôs chemical engineering department in 1949.

He has been credited with building the department from a “nothing department” into one of the best in the nation. He “was just a young guy” when he took over the department and moved to hire all the people who made the department what it is today, said Lanny Schmidt, a chemical engineering professor who was himself hired by Amundson.

“We now have a faculty of 30-some people,” Schmidt said, “and we owe the whole tradition to his leadership.”

Amundson also hired Kenneth Keller, who went on to become president of the University from 1985 to 1988.

Amundson, who Schmidt and others referred to as “the chief,” had a “do it right” philosophy when it came to his department, Schmidt said.

Amundson was department head for 25 years when he resigned because he thought the University was getting “too bureaucratical.”

From there, Amundson continued his career at the University of Houston, where he was a professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering and of
mathematics.

Amundson wrote more than 200 journal articles and five books, and his research led to many advances in the design and operation of chemical processes.

Professional societies such as the American Institute of Chemical Engineers, the American Society for Engineering Education and the American Chemical Society gave Amundson awards, and he received honorary doctorate degrees from at least five colleges.