The University of Akron's tradition as a leader in polymer science and polymer engineering began over 99 years ago with the foresight of a faculty member at Buchtel College, the forerunner of The University of Akron. Dr. C. M. Knight, a professor and chemical consultant, realized that young Akron rubber companies like BFGoodrich would need well trained workers to keep growing. By 1909, Knight had set up the world's first academic rubber chemistry laboratory and began teaching a course in rubber chemistry the next year.
From there, the University's program gained momentum as Akron and its industry became known as the Rubber Capital of the World. The earliest master's thesis on rubber chemistry catalogued in the University's library was completed in 1920. By World War II, the University's program was so highly regarded that the U.S. government contracted with the University of Akron to establish the Rubber Research Laboratory to aid in the development of the synthetic rubber needed for the war effort.
In 1956, the laboratory became the Institute of Rubber Research with Professor Maurice Morton, a pioneer in polymer research and education, as its director. As the scope of research continued to broaden, the institute was renamed the Institute of Polymer Science in 1964. Three years later, the University set up a separate Department of Polymer Science to oversee the academic programs while the institute focused on research. Morton retired in 1978 as director of the Institute of Polymer Science and Department Head. Dr. Frank N. Kelley, an alumnus of the program, succeeded Morton as director of the institute while Dr. Howard L. Stephens, a long-time faculty member, became head of the department.
A growing focus on polymer processing, design and applications led to the establishment in 1983 of the Akron Polymer Engineering Center (APEC) with Dr. James L. White as its director. The Department of Polymer Engineering was created the next year with White named to chair the department as well. The center has since been renamed the Institute of Polymer Engineering in 1989.
To organize the work of all four programs, the University in 1988 formally established the College of Polymer Science and Polymer Engineering, with Dr. Frank N. Kelley as its inaugural dean. The college added to its research and teaching programs in 1994 with the opening of the Akron Polymer Training Center, an educational outreach program designed to bring hands-on training and workforce development to the many polymer related companies in Northeastern Ohio. The Akron Global Polymer Academy followed in 2000/2001. The State of Ohio funded Academy's staff assists the College in creating and disseminating knowledge about polymer science and polymer engineering, and Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) by supporting initiatives in P-16 education and other distributive education ventures and in August 2007, the college named one of its premier scientists, Dr. Stephen Z.D. Cheng, as its second dean.
With five endowed professorships and chairs, the college's distinguished faculty represents one of the largest concentrations of polymer expertise to be found anywhere. This wealth of knowledge draws distinguished visiting faculty and top students from around the world, and has helped establish Northeastern Ohio as "Polymer Valley."