College of Polymer Science and Polymer Engineering — From rubber to sustainable polymers, leading the field for more than a century


As part of The University of Akron’s sesquicentennial celebration — honoring 150 years of our people, place and promises – we are hosting a “Celebration of Colleges” to highlight the history and future of our many academic disciplines. We congratulate our colleges for their innovation in education, service and research, and look forward to celebrating the successes of our faculty staff and students for years to come!

The month of May is dedicated to our College of Polymer Science and Polymer Engineering.


Goodyear Polymer Center, circa 2000.

In 1909, Dr. Charles M. Knight, a professor at Buchtel College, had the foresight to teach the world’s first course in rubber chemistry, preparing students for careers in the booming rubber industry in Akron, the “Rubber Capital of the World.” 

By World War II, the rubber chemistry program was so well regarded that the U.S. government contracted with The University of Akron to establish the Rubber Research Laboratory to aid in the development of synthetic rubber needed for the war effort. 

The Department of Polymer Science was officially established in 1967, followed by the Department of Polymer Engineering in 1984. In 1988, the University established the world’s first College of Polymer Science and Polymer Engineering, with Dr. Frank N. Kelley as its inaugural dean. 

What to know about the College

  • The college offers cutting edge academic and research programs in polymer chemistry, physics and engineering, with degrees at the levels of a doctoral., masters and an undergraduate minor. 
  • The college offers a unique master’s degree for international students; Akron Master’s Program (AMP), which combines a three-year study abroad with a two-year study at UA.  
  • The college runs Akron Global Polymer Academy, which hosts Science Olympiads, the District 5 Science Day and the Rubber-Band-Contest for Young Inventors; reaching 20,000 students and teachers (K-12) each year. 
  • The college offers polymer technology services with workforce training courses in rubber and plastic technology. In addition, it runs a testing service for industry and start-ups. 
  • The college houses state-of-the-art polymer characterization and processing facilities, such as the National Polymer Innovation Center, for research, training and testing. 
  • The college is moving forward to expand programin designing sustainable materials, advancing biomaterials and biomimicry research. 

To learn more, visit the College of Polymer Science and Polymer Engineering online. 

All images are courtesy of Archival Services at The University of Akron.

Media contact: Cristine Boyd, 330-972-6476 or cboyd

First Rubber Lab

The world’s first Rubber Chemistry course was taught in the Knight Chemical Building. Image is circa 1909-1931.

Testing for tire deflection

Testing for tire deflection under load. Circa 1931.

Whitby Lab photo

Dr. G.S. Whitby, director of rubber research, H.L. Stephens, Alice R. Mayor and J.A. Cala, member of the rubber research staff, October 1952.

Whitby Lab photo

Dr. Maurice Morton, director of The University of Akron Rubber Research Laboratory, introduces members of the research lab to some equipment they will use.

Students working in a polymer lab

Students working in a polymer lab.