had established departments of chemical engineering much earlier, it was not until 1946 that the Berkeley campus established a program in chemical engineering. The program was administered by the Division of Chemical Engineering within the chemistry department. A chemical engineering department was not established until 1957. The name was changed to the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering in 2010. After chairing the Division of Chemical Engineering from 1953 to 1957, Charlie became the first chair of the new Department of Chemical Engineering, a position he held until 1963.
Following his work with Hougen, Charlie’s main research interests at Berkeley focused on mass transfer, that is, the rate of transport of molecules from one phase to another as encountered in numerous chemical engineering operations such as distillation and extraction. Charlie’s research in this area produced numerous publications in which he showed how fundamental science can be usefully applied in chemical process design. Charlie’s work was recognized with some of the highest awards of his profession, including the Colburn Award and the Walker Award of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE) and election to the National Academy of Engineering. In 1983, Wilke was included in a list of 30 eminent chemical engineers on the occasion of AIChE’s 75th Diamond Jubilee Celebration.
In the early 1960s, Charlie’s research interests shifted to what was then the very early period of biochemical engineering. Initially, his studies concerned the kinetics of microbial growth and of oxygen dissolving in biochemical reactors. Later, he gave attention to making synthetic fuels (ethanol) from solid wastes such as old newspapers. In his engineering-oriented research during the 1970s, Charlie was 25 years ahead of his time. Thanks to his early initiatives in biochemical engineering, Berkeley is now an internationally acclaimed center for research in that area. At present, the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering has five faculty members whose primary interests are in applying chemical engineering science to advance the frontiers of biotechnology.