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History of the Chemistry & Biochemistry Department

Photo of Old Main

The original department of chemistry was formed at Southwest Texas State Teachers College in 1927 offering an undergraduate chemistry degree under the guidance of the department’s first chair, Dr. Carroll E. Key with Mr. Herschel Hopson as faculty member.

The department originated from the Science and Mathematics Department composed of Dr. Key, Dr. C. Spurgeon Smith (Biology) and Mr. S. M. Sewell (Mathematics). Dr. Key served as department chair until 1959 at which time it had grown to four total faculty members. Under his guidance the first bachelor’s degrees were awarded in the department and the first master’s degree awarded in 1938.

A culture of research was established early in the department’s history with many research theses being accomplished upon the chemical constituents of cedar oil. In the next 15 years the department continued to grow in size with the able leadership of Dr. Archie O. Parks and Dr. Charles R. Willms. The faculty had grown to 11 members and was cited annually in the local news as the department with the highest percentage of Ph.D. faculty members in the 1970s. In 1971, the department’s Bachelor of Science degree in chemistry was granted certification by the American Chemical Society.

The department has always had a reputation for academic excellencies as noted in the following quote from Dr. Ron Brown’s history of the first 75 years of the university, Beacon on the Hill.

“Undergraduates occasionally complain about those “tough” courses in physics and chemistry. Certainly the SWT faculty in those disciplines pride themselves upon their rigorous standards.”

Throughout the next 30 years, the department continued to grow along with the University chaired by Dr. Billy J. Yager, Dr. Carl J. Carrano and Dr. James D. Irvin. In those years, considerable changes occurred in the University and department. In 2000, the department changed its name to the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry which was followed with the establishment of Master’s and Bachelor’s degrees in biochemistry.

Two of the department’s retired faculty members, Dr. John Fitch and Dr. Billy Yager, have received the honor of being named Distinguished Professor Emeritus. In addition, six department faculty members have received the Texas State Presidential Award for Research. Dr. Walter Rudzinski served as Interim Chair of the Department from 2007 until the Spring of 2010, and the current Chair of the Department is Dr. William Brittain.

During the decade 2010-2020, the department experienced increases in enrollment and scholarly productivity.  Enrollment increased by more than half during this decade with a corresponding increase in instructional faculty.  Research expenditures and peer-reviewed publications doubled during this period and a greater percentage of the faculty received major federal grants for research staffed with Texas State undergraduates and graduate students.  Three faculty (Todd Hudnall, Alex Kornienko and Chris Rhodes) received the Presidential Award for Excellence in Scholarly Activity) during this decade and two faculty were named both Distinguished Professor and TSUS Regents Professors (Gary Beall and William Brittain).  In 2020, renovations on the first-floor landing created two new classrooms and one additional teaching laboratory bringing the total departmental space to 30,000 square feet of instructional and research space in the Chemistry Building and 20,000 square feet of research space in Centennial.

As we look forward, our department remains committed to balancing scholarly and instructional excellence with direct faculty involvement in student training and development.

Department Chair History

Portrait of Dr. Carroll E. Key
Dr. Carroll E. Key, Chair 1927-1959
Portrait of Dr. Billy J. Yager
Dr. Billy J. Yager, Chair 1975-1988
Portrait of Dr. Walter Rudzinski
Dr. Walter Rudzinski, Interim Chair 2007-2010
Portrait of Dr. Archie O. Parks
Dr. Archie O. Parks, Chair 1959-1968
Portrait of Dr. Carl J. Carrano
Dr. Carl J. Carrano, Chair 1988-1999
Portrait of Dr. William Brittain
Dr. William Brittain, Chair 2010-Present
Portrait of Dr. Charles R. Willms
Dr. Charles R. Willms, Chair 1968-1975
Portrait of Dr. James D. Irvin
Dr. James D. Irvin, Chair 2000-2007