Allan P. Colburn notebooks

Biographical and Historical Notes

Dr. Allan P. Colburn (1904-1955), was a prominent educator and researcher in the field of chemical engineering. The first University of Delaware provost, Dr. Colburn also served as an Assistant to the University President coordinating scientific research across the campus and chaired the Department of Chemical Engineering. Dr. Colburn played a large role in establishing the undergraduate curriculum in Chemical Engineering and also helped develop one used by the US Army during World War II.

Born in Madison, Wisconsin, Dr. Colburn attended Marquette University for two years before transferring to the University of Wisconsin, where he earned his bachelor's degree in 1926, his master's degree in 1927, and his doctorate in 1929.

In 1929, Dr. Colburn began work with the DuPont Company as a research chemical engineer, performing basic research on heat transfer, the flow of fluids, distillation, and absorption. During the course of his work with DuPont, Colburn, together with his colleague Thomas H. Chilton, developed the Chilton-Colburn analogy, which became a fundamental principle of chemical engineering. After nine years at DuPont, Colburn joined the University of Delaware in 1938 as a professor of chemical engineering. He became a full professor in 1941 and was chair of the department for nine years, leaving the post in 1947 to become assistant to the University President and adviser on research. He served as interim President of the University from April 1 to November 1, 1950 before becoming the first Provost of the University that same year. Dr. Colburn held that post until his death after a protracted illness in 1955.

Dr. Colburn's contributions to the University were significant. Responsible not only for the development of the undergraduate curriculum in chemical engineering, Dr. Colburn also worked to establish the department as one of the most prominent in the field. During World War II, Dr. Colburn was instrumental in directing the use of the chemical engineering laboratories at the university for war research problems for both the government and war industries. In his role as assistant to the University President and adviser on research, Dr. Colburn continued to strengthen the ties of the university to industry and to raise the profile of research both inside and outside the University. Although he was President for only a few months, Dr. Colburn began a major initiative to expand University housing and was also responsible for the creation of the marine biology program.

In recognition of his many contributions to the field of chemical engineering, Dr. Colburn was named one of “50 Chemical Engineers of the Foundation Age” by the American Institute of Chemical Engineering, which also bestows a yearly award in his name. He is also recognized by a named professorship in chemical engineering at the University of Delaware as well as the naming of the Colburn Laboratory in his honor.


DuPont Company, "Chemical Engineering: 1930's In Depth," (accessed June 21, 2010).

Program from a "Memorial Service in Honor of Allan Philip Colburn," University of Delaware Archives.

"U. of D. Trustees Name Dr. Colburn Provost," 1950 October 10, University of Delaware Archives.

"University's Provost Dies in Baltimore," University of Delaware Archives.

Scope and Content Note

The Allan P. Colburn notebooks consists of seventeen bound volumes dated between 1924-1947 (bulk dates 1924-1929) containing notes and materials from science and engineering courses Colburn took as a student at the University of Wisconsin.

Included among the notebooks are two copies of Colburn's Master of Science thesis as well as drafts of two articles and a copy of a book published by the University of Delaware in 1947. Most of the course materials appear to have been custom bound by Colburn. Among the items included in the course materials are lecture notes, lab notes, graded assignments, copies of class handouts and exams, inspection reports, and itineraries.