About the Department

The Chemical Engineering Department at the University of Tulsa has a long and distinguished record dating back to 1930 when Wilbur L. (Doc) Nelson joined the University of Tulsa as the first Head of Petroleum Engineering. Dr. Nelson became the father of the chemical engineering program in 1932 when Petroleum Engineering was divided and Doc became the Head of Petroleum Refining. In 1939 the Refining program was renamed Chemical Engineering and Doc continued as Head until 1954. Under Dr. Nelson's leadership, the Refining program developed a national and international reputation for excellence; due primarily to Dr. Nelson's pioneering achievements. His "Petroleum Refinery Engineering" appeared in 1936 and rapidly became the definitive work worldwide.

Since the early years, the chemical engineering program was strongly tied to the refining industry until the later decades of the 20th century as the program diversified to include faculty and programs broad in interests, but traditional in chemical engineering methods and approach to problems. Some of our recent successes, awards, and events are given here:

TU ChEm -E car team posing with other teams and vehicles

ChE Students Win National Chem-E Car National Championship

ChE students and faculty have a long history of winning alternative fuel vehicle competitions, including an exciting win in Glasgow, Scotland at the first international contest for model cars powered only by a chemical reaction.

On July 10, 2005, The University of Tulsa won the first international contest for model cars powered only by a chemical reaction.

The TU team prevailed at the competition in Scotland despite travel delayed by hurricanes, airplane malfunctions and the subway bombings in London, and damage to the car during shipping, which forced a student to go dumpster diving to find a replacement part.

Nine teams from seven countries went to the International Chem-E-Car Challenge in Glasgow to see which one of their model cars could come closest to the finish line, 16.5 meters away (about 54 feet), while carrying 375 grams (about 12 ounces) of water. TU’s car, the “Hydrogen Hurricane,” came within 15 centimeters (about six inches) of the line to claim first place, including 1,000 pounds, or about $1,800.  

TU’s car is powered by energy from hydrogen fuel cells that is stored in ultracapacitors and then discharged to a motor through a circuit containing a magnesium strip. The car stops when a hydrochloric acid solution eats through the strip and breaks the circuit.

TU’s vehicle, shipped separately, arrived on the eve of the contest with a damaged foam panel, about 5 inches by 8 inches, which holds and insulates the capacitors. With stores closed, TU junior Taylor Coleman peered into some garbage bins near their hotel and retrieved a cardboard pizza box from which a replacement part was cut. “It was disgusting but it was what we had to do at the time to get the car running,” said Coleman.

The TU team was made up of all chemical engineering majors, and chemical engineering professor Christi Patton, team advisor, also went.

Fund raising to help pay for TU’s trip included the sale of T-shirts bearing a phrase the students created and making reference to the university’s founding date: “The University of Tulsa, Out-Nerding the Competition Since 1894.”


  • Sarkeys Professor of Environmental Engineering
  • 2 Fellows, American Institute of Chemical Engineers
  • Tau Beta Pi Teaching Award: 1972, 1976, 1986, 1988, 1994, 1995
  • Kermit E. Brown Award for Teaching Excellence: 1995, 2001, 2004
  • University of Tulsa Outstanding Teacher Award: 1982, 1995, 2003
  • Zelimir Schmidt Award for Research Excellence: 1991
  • American Society for Engineering Education (Midwest Section): Outstanding Teaching Award:1999; Outstanding Service Award: 2004
  • Nature Conservancy Award for Stewardship: 2000
  • Director, EPA Research Center (Integrated Petroleum Environmental Consortium)
  • R.H. Hunt Silver Medalist for Distinguished Publications, American Institute of Mining, Metallurgical, and Petroleum Engineering: 1969

Undergraduate Facilities

  • Honeywell Process Control Computer System
  • Fully-equipped Unit Operations Laboratory
  • ChemEng Computer Lab: 20 PC's 3 GHz P4, 1 GB memory, Flat Panel LCD Monitors
  • Tallgrass Prairie Ecological Research Station (7,000 ft2 research facility)
  • Hurricane Motor Works: Hybrid-Electric Vehicle Research Lab

Research Areas

  • Bio and Environmental: Bioreactor Design, Bioremediation, Microbial Monitoring, Soil Ecosystem Restoration
  • Materials Science & Engineering: Automotive Emission Catalysis, Fuel Cells, Nanotechnology, Sensors, Surface Chemistry and Catalysts
  • Energy: Delayed Coking, Fluid Catalytic Cracking, Phase Equilibrium Analysis and Modeling, Computational Fluid Dynamics, Zeolites

Selected Student Awards

  • World Champions, Chemical-powered car competition, International Institute of Chemical Engineers.
  • AIChE, Chemical-powered car competition, Top Ten Finish, 2000-20041st Place Distance: 2004; 2nd Place Poster Presentation: 2002
  • National ChemE Student Design Competition, 2nd Place 2003
  • Fundamentals of Engineering Exam Pass Rate > 90%100% Pass Rate in Spring 1999, Fall 1999, Fall 2002, Fall 2003
  • AIChE, Minority Scholarship Award for College Students, 1999-2003
  • AIChE, Othmer Award, Top 15 nation-wide chemical engineering students (2003)
  • AIChE, Mid-America Regional Chemical-powered car competition:1st Place 2000, 2nd Place 2001, 3rd Place 2002 & 2003, 2nd Place 2004.
  • Recent Undergraduate Student Publications:2 in 1999, 3 in 2000, 3 in 2001, 2 in 2002, 3 in 2003, 1 in 2004