Our Roots: 1929
In 1929, NC State established a School of Forestry reflecting the importance of North Carolina's forests and the wood products they made possible to the state's economy. That same year, the North Carolina Forestry Foundation was established with funds from both individuals and companies, in part to raise money for the acquisition of forest lands that would allow NC State students to gain experience in managing forests as a business practice. In the years ahead, these themes of hands-on instruction, a close partnership with industry and a determination to support North Carolina's economy would all drive the growth of forestry-related areas at NC State including the formation of a wood products and paper and pulp department that is now one of the most respected wood and paper science programs in the United States.
A New Department: 1948
During the first few decades of its existence, the Forestry School proved itself exceptionally responsive to the needs of the forestry and related industries. It educated its students in topics that led beyond the forest floor to the factory floor, preparing them to be proficient managers and buyers of lumber and other raw materials. In 1948, this focus on extending expertise to the manufacturing realm was formalized when what had become the Division of Forestry established its first wood utilization program, featuring a curriculum centered on wood technology and lumber products merchandising. A year later, formal research programs and laboratory teaching methods were introduced in order to provide students with a way to combine their fundamental knowledge with practical skills better preparing them to join the ranks of industry upon graduation and to enjoy success in their careers.
At the time, NC State's student body included a large percentage of WWII veterans seeking new career opportunities. Their response to the new program was enthusiastic and, within a year and a half, not only had it graduated 16 transfer students, a pulp technology option had been added to the wood technology curriculum. This new option featured courses in both wood technology and chemical engineering, and a curriculum developed with help from industry leaders. The program would eventually evolve into our now renowned paper science and engineering curriculum.
The Expansion Decades
By 1950, Masters degrees and PhD's in Wood Technology were available and the new wood science program had signaled its intentions to stay attuned to evolving industry needs. In 1951, a special pulp and paper program that combined the facilities and faculty of the School of Forestry, Department of Chemical Engineering and Department of Chemistry was announced. Graduates studies had been available through these separate areas for several years, but this initiative was the first undergraduate training program of its kind ever offered in the South. Equipment available to the original pulp technology program included a chipper, defiberizer, beater, sheet forming cylinders, and a digester.
Meanwhile, a wood products laboratory had been built and equipped through funding and donations of equipment by corporate sponsors to serve the needs of NC State programs involving solid wood products. The first wood products laboratory was little more than a glorified woodworking shop stocked with equipment and tools that had been loaned, borrowed or donated by companies anxious to satisfy their hiring needs with a pool of graduates already trained on their equipment. Early equipment included a sawmill, dry kiln, plywood press, wood treating plant, furniture fabrication shop, wood finishing lab, testing equipment for gauging stress and strain and various ovens all available for research, testing and student training. But it didn't take long for more mill working equipment and furniture manufacturing machines to be donated. Soon, a second wood products laboratory was created in the basement of Kilgore Hall to resemble the flow of materials in a factory. It was made available for wood and science technology studies as well as to students studying furniture manufacturing. In addition to teaching, the lab was used for graduate level research and in another sign of its commitment to NC State's land grant mandate for continuing education workshops, seminars and short hands-on courses contracted for by companies.
Other facilities for both our wood science and paper science areas followed in rapid order, including the Hodges Wood Working Laboratory and the Robertson Laboratory of Pulp and Paper Technology, which opened in October of 1957 firmly established NC State as a national leader in preparing graduates for jobs in related industries.
The department's industry ties grew even stronger in 1955 when the Paper and Pulp Foundation was established. Early memberships were held by paper companies and they joined by suppliers a few years later. The Foundation's original budget of $25,000 included funds for salaries and salary supplements, undergraduate student scholarships, a graduate fellowship and travel funds. Over the next 55 years, the Foundation's assets and membership would swell dramatically, keeping pace with steady growth in the department's paper science program enrollment.
Maintaining An Innovative Curriculum
The 1950's saw an expansion in the department's curriculum that mirrored advancements and hiring needs in the wood, paper and pulp industries. By the end of the decade, courses offered covered lumber structure, mechanical properties of wood, forest valuation and administration, forest economics, milling, logging, forest production, naval stores, technical sales, fiber analysis, wood chemistry, organic chemistry, paper engineering, process engineering and more. By the time the 60's dawned, training had expanded to covered related technology and industry-specific business management practices. In 1960, a fifth year program was inaugurated to allow students to obtain a B.S. degree in pulp and paper technology in four years, complete the requirements for a B.S. in chemistry engineering during a fifth year. This groundbreaking dual degree program continues today.
In 1962, more science was added to the department's overall curriculum, in line with a nationwide university trend, and even more specialists in wood mechanics, wood physics and wood structure arrived as faculty members many of them from among industry ranks, establishing what is now a long tradition of cross-pollination between NC State's faculty and industry laboratories. The department's name was changed to reflect this emphasis on the underlying sciences, first becoming known as the Wood Science and Technology Department, and soon after, the Department of Wood and Paper Science, as it is still known today.
A Growing International Reputation
By the end of the 60's, two decades of steady growth and expansion in status, curricula, research, service, enrollment and facilities had resulted in national recognition for the department. NC State had obtained the largest collection of tropical wood in the U.S. and become a leader in study, research and instruction involving tropical woods and their uses. It had added new courses in gluing, composites and wood chemistry as well as wood deterioration, and high level coursework in business and financial management. It ranked first in the nation in the number of undergraduates and advanced degrees conferred in Wood Science and Technology. On the paper science and engineering side, faculty additions had enriched the curriculum in paper additives and paper-coating, significantly expanded the chemistry area of the pulp and paper program and strengthened its biochemistry offerings.
The department also began to expand its reputation internationally, thanks in part to a visiting scientist program started in 1966 and a special training program in the pulp and paper area for a group of ten college graduates in engineering from Columbia and Peru. These initiatives would help spread the department's reach worldwide and bring more international students into its enrolled ranks. They would also signal the beginnings of a permanent emphasis on forging international partnerships and offering student internships with global companies, characterized by particularly strong ties with companies in countries where the paper and pulp industries dominate, such as Japan and China.
The Environmental Era
The 1970's began with the opening of a new home for the Wood and Paper Science Department: Biltmore Hall, which had been constructed next to the Hodges Wood Product Laboratory and the Robertson Paper and Pulp laboratory. Shortly thereafter, environmental sciences achieved widespread acceptance within the scientific and academic communities, revealing new areas of study that would shape the future of many FB efforts. For example, NC State became an early participant in research toward bio-based alternatives shortly after the 1974 oil crisis cast light on the need for alternatives to petroleum products as America's primary fuel source. In 1977, a $600,000 project was initiated with a grant from the National Science Foundation to explore the possibility of converting wood and related materials into chemical sources, one of the first research projects of its kind and a harbinger of what was to come, as evidenced by our emerging forest biomaterials area today.
The 70's also brought another new frontier into the laboratories of FB when an electron microscope was purchased and installed in Biltmore Hall in January 1972, thanks to the generosity the Pulp and Paper Foundation and contributions from ITT-Rayonier. Eventually, research on the cellular and atomic level would lead to NC State's emergence as an international leader in biotechnology including the genetic engineering of promising new fiber sources for the paper and pulp industry.
The 1980's saw an increasing emphasis on environmental science and biotechnology as it related to the wood, paper and pulp industries. Demand for NC State graduates exploded and foundation support and endowed scholarships continued to grow, with 50% of all paper and pulp students receiving scholarships. As FB entered the mid-1980's, it had the largest undergraduate wood, paper and pulp student enrollment in the United States, as it continues to today.
Driven By Science
The department ushered in the 90's with a 29,000 square foot expansion of the Robertson Laboratory that a 6,000 square feet pilot plant, undergraduate and graduate research wood chemistry laboratories classrooms, faculty offices, coating, printing and paper testing laboratories. This expansion allowed the department to enhance its teaching and research programs and, while it had always supported an active wood extension program, the enhanced facilities also allowed it to enter the arena of continuing education on the paper and pulp side as well. These efforts began with a 2-week continuing education course in pulp and paper technology that was taught for the first time in 1990 in response to industry requests. This program has evolved over time and continues to be offered today.
As the wood products program continued to expand and to support wood-related industries in North Carolina, the paper science faculty made significant revisions to its undergraduate curriculum in 1999 in order to remain America's best paper science and engineering program. These changes were in response to new priorities and needs in the industry and they helped keep NC States graduates highly desirable hires. New courses improved critical thinking, communications, troubleshooting, and research skills while also emphasizing paper properties and new product development. A new, comprehensive course on wet end chemistry was added as research efforts increasingly reflected the realization that continuing paper and pulp industry competitiveness in a global market would depend on innovative and lower cost new products.
A New Century Dawns
By the dawn of a new millennium, the world had changed significantly since 1949 and the Department of Wood and Paper Science had changed with it, reflecting the new priorities in people's lives. Approval was granted in 2000 to offer a 100% distance learning-based Master of Wood and Paper Science the first and only pulp and paper degree of its kind in the world and one designed to serve the needs of professional scientists and engineers already employed in the industry. The degree's centerpiece project was unique in that it involved research of high value to the employing corporation. Response was enthusiastic and the distance learning program now contributes to the full array of degree programs: Bachelor of Science, Master of Science, Master of Wood and Paper Science (non thesis), PhD and a distance learning professional degree.
By 2001, exploration into new areas of research and a continuing alignment with industry needs paid off big for the department. Faculty research in paper recycling was recognized that year when Procter and Gamble selected NC State to receive the largest suite of patents in recycling separation technology ever received by the University. A significant cash grant was also donated to develop this technology a sign of the project's potential dollar savings to the industry, which was estimated at hundreds of millions of dollars. Outreach efforts in non-industry areas were also strengthened that year when funds from the Paper and Pulp Foundation underwrote a unique research experience. Twenty high school chemistry and environmental science teachers were invited to come to NC State to explore the science of papermaking and recycling. They conducted experiments on pulping, papermaking, and recycling; received license credits for their participation; and returned to their schools with a set of experiments to use in the classroom. This was the first program of its kind ever held in the U.S. by a paper science and engineering program. It was enthusiastically adopted as a national model by university extension and outreach coordinators soon after its debut.
In recent years, the department has continued to hold its lead as a premier teaching program and it has adopted an ever-increasing interdisciplinary approach to its research efforts. Linked by biotechnology, nanotechnology and other new sciences, the department's wood science and paper and pulp areas are exploring the possibilities of new genetic strains on fiber sourcing, new recycling methods, innovative uses for materials previously thought to be waste and improvements in manufacturing and processing methods. Intrigued by the probability that advancements in the use of forest biomaterials could significantly improve the economics of the wood products, paper and pulp industries, these areas are also working closely with our new forest biomaterials area in examining the potential and practical uses of the forest biomass as renewable resources that could form the basis for many products of the future, including biofuels, bioenergy, bioplastics, chemicals, housing materials, composite components and more.
The Department has also taken the lead in encouraging interdisciplinary research efforts toward a viable national biomaterials industry through a partnership with North Carolina Agricultural & Technical State University and the University of Tennessee at Knoxville to establish a center of excellence in biomass, bioenergy and bioproduct education. The BioSucceed initiative includes major research initiatives and biomass and bioproduct-related courses for both undergraduate and graduate students. The NC State component of this program offers research and internship opportunities for students who want to help produce the next generation of renewable sources of materials, chemicals and energy for the world of tomorrow. In recognition of these research initiatives, the Department of Wood and Paper Science was renamed the Department of Forest Biomaterials in 2010.
The Department is also leading the drive towards sustainable housing. A number of studies have shown that wood based materials in housing can store green houses gases and save energy. When coupled with innovative manufacturing schemes, new materials science and the development of creative business plans, wood-based sustainable is the housing material of the future.
The years ahead will likely continue to bring many more changes to the department's curriculum and inspire new research initiatives as NC State continues to shape its Forest Biomaterials program to meet the needs of allied industries while promoting sustainable use of the world's resources. We are up to the challenge. With over 55 years of success behind us, the Department of Forest Biomaterials is looking forward to many more years of scientific leadership and many more years of sponsoring innovative teaching, research and extension activities.