History of the Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry

By Dot Goldish


The Chemistry program at CSULB began with a temporary faculty member in 1954. The first permanent faculty joined what was then the department of Physical Sciences and Mathematics, chaired by Prof. Robert Henderson, in 1955. The program grew rapidly. By the sprIng of 1959 the first students had earned a B.S. in Chemistry and the M.S. program was about to start. In 1960, the program became the Department of Chemistry, chaired by Dr. Donald Simonsen.

Faculty in 1961

Department Faculty in 1961


From the first, the department was committed to providing students with an excellent education, that included the opportunity to participate in research. Although research was officially not a part of the campus mission, some members of the department found ways to get research programs started. Dr. John Stern set up a calorimeter in makeshift facilities and many of the early students were able to conduct publishable research working with him. Other faculty members undertook small projects that could use the teaching laboratories at times classes were not in session. Dr. Robert Henderson designed SC3 (later known as PH3) with laboratories for advanced work. Once that building opened in 1962, faculty members were able to give substantial numbers of students an opportunity to participate in an active research program.

Members of the department now have up-to-date research facilities in the Molecular and Life Sciences Building. A replacement for PH3 is under construction, to provide additional modern facilities.

As interest grew in the rapidly expanding field of biochemistry, the department began to offer an M.S. in Biochemistry in the mid-1960's.

In the early 1970's, the department developed a B.A. in Chemistry program to allow students to complete the new requirements for a teaching credential. This program omitted some of the advanced courses required for the B.S., leaving room to include a group of career-related courses. The B.A. program proved to be a popular choice not only for teachers but also for students preparing for the health professions, forensics, and other careers for which a solid foundation in chemistry is essential

As time went on, more and more undergraduate students became interested in specializing in biochemistry. While they had the option of including a group of Biological Science courses as part of the B.A. in Chemistry program, students wanted a degree specifically in biochemistry. Eventually, the CSU system authorized awarding of the B.S. in Biochemistry in 1986. To better reflect its actual programs, the department changed its name in 1989, to the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry.

Much has changed over the years, as earlier faculty members have retired and been replaced by new faculty members with new skills and new interests, but the early commitment to excellence has remained a hallmark of the department. Graduates of the program find themselves well prepared to enter jobs or graduate programs. Two members of the department, Dr. Kenneth Marsi and Dr. Henry Po, have been recognized by the university as Outstanding Professor and many others have been recognized for outstanding teaching and for distinguished research. Many members of the department have provided leadership in the American Chemical Society and at the university in faculty governance, and in administrative positions. Undergraduate and graduate students work closely with faculty members, participating in research that is published in highly-regarded journals.