During World War II, when countless wounded soldiers required a scarce and expensive medicine, chemical engineers helped solve the problem that had limited its availability. In a triumph of chemical engineering, John McKeen used deep-tank fermentation to scale up production of penicillin, the first modern antibiotic. Margaret Hutchinson Rousseau, another talented chemical engineer, designed the first commercial-scale penicillin plant.
With their contributions to penicillin’s breakthrough, McKeen and Hutchinson Rousseau helped reduce the cost per dose, save thousands of lives and set the course for the industrial-scale production of other lifesaving drugs. As today’s chemical engineers address the many threats associated with COVID-19, will we see chemical engineering triumph again?