Oral history interview with Norman N. Li

Oral history interview with Norman N. Li

  • 2000-May-05

Norman Li begins the interview with a description of his family and childhood years in Fuzhou, China. After World War II, Li's family moved to Taiwan, where Li completed high school. Li then attended National Taiwan University, majoring in chemical engineering. He received his B.A. in 1954. Li's father encouraged him to further his education in the United States. Li attended Wayne State University, where he benefited from the care, support, and assurance of Professor Harold Donnelly. He received his M.S. in chemical engineering in 1957 and then attended Stevens Institute of Technology, receiving his PhD in 1963. Li accepted a position in the Process Division of Exxon Research and Engineering Company. Early in his career at Exxon, Li began thinking about liquid-membrane technology and applications. While with Exxon, Li received a combined total of 44 patents on either hydrocarbon separations or facilitated transport. Li was approached by Mary Good about a new career opportunity at UOP Co. After much deliberation, Li decided to make the move from research to research administration, becoming Director of Separation Science and Technology at UOP in 1981. As soon as he arrived at UOP, Li wrote a proposal that established a liquid-membrane research program. Li left UOP in 1988, joining Mary Good at Allied Signal Co. In 1995, Li decided to “retire” from Allied Signal and establish his own consulting firm, NL Chemical Technology, Inc. Li concludes the interview with a discussion of the future of chemical R&D, reflections on winning the Perkin Medal, and thoughts on his family.

Property Value
Place of interview
  • 39 pages
  • 2 h 22 m 5 s
Rights Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License
Rights holder
  • Science History Institute
Credit line
  • Courtesy of Science History Institute
Digitization funder
  • Audio synchronization made possible through the generous funding of the National Historical Publications and Records Commission.

About the Interviewer

James G. Traynham is a professor of chemistry at Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge. He holds a PhD in organic chemistry from Northwestern University. He joined Louisiana State University in 1953 and served as chemistry department chairperson from 1968 to 1973. He was chairman of the American Chemical Society’s Division of the History of Chemistry in 1988 and is currently councilor of the Baton Rouge section of the American Chemical Society. He was a member of the American Chemical Society’s Joint-Board Council on Chemistry and Public Affairs, as well as a member of the Society’s Committees on Science, Chemical Education, and Organic Chemistry Nomenclature. He has written over 90 publications, including a book on organic nomenclature and a book on the history of organic chemistry.

Physical location

Oral history number 0195

Related Items

Interviewee biographical information

  • January 14, 1933
  • Shanghai, China


Year Institution Degree Discipline
1954 Guo li Taiwan da xue BA Chemical Engineering
1957 Wayne State University MS Chemical Engineering
1963 Stevens Institute of Technology PhD Chemical Engineering

Professional Experience

Exxon Research and Engineering Company

  • 1963 to 1981 Senior Research Scientist

Universal Oil Products Company

  • 1981 to 1988 Director of Separation Science and Technology

Allied-Signal Inc.

  • 1988 to 1995 Director of Research and Technology

N L Chemical Technology, Inc.

  • 1995 to 2001 Chief Executive Officer


Year(s) Award
1980 Chairman, Industrial and Engineering Chemistry Division, American Chemical Society
1988 Alpha Chi Sigma Award for Chemical Engineering Research, American Institute of Chemical Engineers
1988 Separation Science and Technology Award, American Chemical Society
1989 Fellow, American Institute of Chemical Engineers
1990 Member, National Academy of Engineering
1992 Director, American Institute of Chemical Engineers
1995 Special Symposium in Honor of Dr. N. N. Li, American Institute of Chemical Engineers
1995 Ernest W. Thiel Award, American Institute of Chemical Engineers
1996 Member, Acedemis Sinica
1998 Member, Chinese Academy of Sciences
2000 Perkin Medal, Society of Chemical Industry (American Section)
2000 Chemical Engineering Practice Award, American Institute of Chemical Engineers
2000 Special Symposium in Honor of Dr. N. N. Li, American Institute of Chemical Engineers
2001 Fujimura Award for Lifetime Achievement in International Technology Cooperation and Development, American Institute of Chemical Engineers and World Congress of Chemical Engineering, Melbourne, Australia

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PDF — 352 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

4 Separate Interview Segments Archival-quality downloads