Oral history interview with Neal R. Amundson

Oral history interview with Neal R. Amundson

  • 1990-Oct-24
Photograph of Neal R. Amundson

Neal Amundson begins the interview with a discussion of his family and early years in St. Paul, Minnesota. Amundson graduated from high school at the very depth of the Depression. For the Amundson family, times were very grim, yet Amundson's parents insisted on sending their son to college. Amundson attended the University of Minnesota, where he received his B.A. in chemical engineering in 1937. Immediately after graduation, Amundson accepted a position with Exxon, then Standard Oil Company of New Jersey, as a process control engineer. There he worked on controlling phenol loss in Exxon's process for lubricating oil. After nearly two years with Standard Oil, Amundson returned to the University of Minnesota. While working toward his M.S. in chemical engineering, Amundson served as a teaching assistant in the mathematics department. After receiving his M.S. in 1941, Amundson decided to switch his educational focus and received his Ph.D. in mathematics in 1945. Amundson stayed at the University of Minnesota as an assistant professor of mathematics. In 1947, he transferred to the University's chemical engineering department and became an associate professor. In 1949, Dean Athelstan F. Spilhaus offered Amundson the position of acting chair of the chemical engineering department. That same year, Amundson became a full professor with the University. In 1951, at just age thirty-five, Amundson held the positions of department chair and professor at the University. Amundson's research work focused on heat transfer, chromatography, and adsorption. Although he was chair of chemical engineering, Amundson was first a mathematician. As a result, he structured the chemical engineering department on a more theoretical level, hiring faculty that held mathematical interests and initiating mathematical applications into a practical engineering curriculum. The strength of the faculty that Amundson assembled helped build a solid reputation for the University of Minnesota. By the late 1940s and early 1950s, Amundson introduced computers into his curriculum. In 1977, Amundson left the University of Minnesota and became the Cullen Professor of Chemical Engineering at the University of Houston, a position he holds today. Amundson concludes the interview with a discussion of his consulting work, the success of students, and thoughts on his career decisions.

Property Value
Place of interview
  • 46 pages
Rights Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License
Rights holder
  • Science History Institute
Credit line
  • Courtesy of Science History Institute

About the Interviewer

James J. Bohning was professor emeritus of chemistry at Wilkes University, where he had been a faculty member from 1959 to 1990. He served there as chemistry department chair from 1970 to 1986 and environmental science department chair from 1987 to 1990. Bohning was chair of the American Chemical Society’s Division of the History of Chemistry in 1986; he received the division’s Outstanding Paper Award in 1989 and presented more than forty papers at national meetings of the society. Bohning was on the advisory committee of the society’s National Historic Chemical Landmarks Program from its inception in 1992 through 2001 and is currently a consultant to the committee. He developed the oral history program of the Chemical Heritage Foundation, and he was CHF’s director of oral history from 1990 to 1995. From 1995 to 1998, Bohning was a science writer for the News Service group of the American Chemical Society. In May 2005, he received the Joseph Priestley Service Award from the Susquehanna Valley Section of the American Chemical Society.  Bohning passed away in September 2011.

Physical location

Oral history number 0084

Related Items

Interviewee biographical information

  • January 10, 1916
  • St. Paul, Minnesota, United States
  • February 16, 2011
  • Houston, Texas, United States


Year Institution Degree Discipline
1937 University of Minnesota BA Chemical Engineering
1941 University of Minnesota MS Chemical Engineering
1945 University of Minnesota PhD Mathematics

Professional Experience

Standard Oil Company of New Jersey

  • 1937 to 1939 Process Engineer

University of Minnesota

  • 1939 to 1947 T.A. Instructor, Assistant Professor, Department of Mathematics
  • 1947 to 1951 Associate Professor, Department of Chemical Engineering
  • 1949 to 1977 Head, Department of Chemical Engineering
  • 1951 to 1967 Professor, Department of Chemical Engineering
  • 1967 to 1977 Regents’ Professor, Department of Chemical Engineering

University of Houston

  • 1977 to 1982 Cullen Professor of Chemical Engineering
  • 1982 to 1992 Cullen Professor of Chemical Engineering and Professor of Mathematics
  • 1987 to 1989 Vice President


Year(s) Award
1954 to 1955 Fulbright Scholar, Cambridge University, England
1955 Guggenheim Fellow, Cambridge University, England
1960 Industrial and Engineering Chemistry Award, ACS
1961 William H. Walker Award, AIChE
1969 National Academy of Engineering
1970 Vincent Bendix Award, American Society of Engineering Education
1970 Fellow, AIChE
1971 Warren K. Lewis Award, AIChE
1973 Richard H. Wilhelm Award, AIChE
1975 Guggenheim Fellow, NATO Senior Fellow
1985 Sc.D. (Honoris Causa), University of Minnesota
1985 Founders Award, AIChE
1986 Eng. D. (Honoris Causa), University of Notre Dame
1989 Albert Einstein Award, Computing and Modelling Association

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PDF — 273 KB

The published version of the transcript may diverge from the interview audio due to edits to the transcript made by staff of the Center for Oral History, often at the request of the interviewee, during the transcript review process.

Complete Interview Audio File Web-quality download

7 Separate Interview Segments Archival-quality downloads