About Plastics Engineering

History of the Department

Past | Present | Future

The Past

The Plastics Engineering Program at UMass Lowell has a strong history as a leader in the field of plastics education. The University, first known as the Lowell Textile School, was founded in 1895 to serve the local textile companies. Over time, the textile industry gradually started moving away from the Lowell area to the southern states and the focus of the school shifted to other newly emerging technical areas. 

In 1954 the name of the school was changed to Lowell Technological Institute to reflect this broader educational mission - the very same year that the plastics program was founded. There were only eight students in the first graduating class (1958) who received Bachelor of Science degrees in Plastics Technology. As time went on, student interest in this novel plastics program grew rapidly, due in large part to the great demand and good job opportunities for well-trained plastics technologists. The word spread quickly and subsequent classes included as many as 75 students.

ehlers thomas normandin
Prof. Russell Ehlers Prof. Henry Thomas Prof. Raymond Normandin

In these early years, three dedicated faculty members molded the program's curriculum and laboratory facilities. The UMass Lowell plastics program would not be where it is today without the efforts of these three professors, especially the late Dr. Russell W. Ehlers. Professor Ehlers was responsible for bringing the strong, hands-on processing focus to the plastics department which still exists today. Russ also served as department chair for many years. The late Professor Raymond Normandin was responsible for developing the chemistry and materials aspects of the program. His influence can still be felt today as approximately 25 percent of the current curriculum credits are chemistry and plastics materials courses. The third founder, the late Professor Henry Thomas, was responsible for bringing the solid engineering and design focus to the department.

This balanced curriculum is what continues to make the Plastics Engineering program at UMass Lowell so unique. Students enrolled in the Plastics Engineering program receive an education that is a well-rounded balance of engineering and design fundamentals, hands-on processing and testing experience and a strong plastics materials background. The B.S. program remains the backbone of the department and has maintained its ABET* Plastics Engineering accreditation since 1977. In more recent years, the department has also developed a strong set of graduate programs and a research focus. The department has offered an M.S. degree in Plastics Engineering since 1968, a joint Polymer Science/Plastics Engineering Ph.D. degree since 1981, and a Doctor of Engineering degree since 1986.  

*The Bachelor of Science in Engineering (Plastics Engineering) program is accredited by the Engineering Accreditation Commission of ABET, http://www.abet.org. 

The Present

The Plastics Engineering Department at UMass Lowell has grown to the point where it now has 18 full-time faculty and 20,000 square feet of laboratory space. The Plastics Engineering faculty strive to maintain the balance of the theoretical and hands-on aspects of plastics engineering education that was set forth by the department founders. More than 2000 talented men and women have received undergraduate or graduate degrees in Plastics Engineering.

There have been major changes and improvements to the program over the years. The theoretical aspects of engineering education such as the laws of thermodynamics or condensation polymerization reaction kinetics are the same today as they were decades ago when the program started. However, the technologies used to design, manufacture, and test plastic products have changed dramatically over the same time period. One of the most significant challenges that any hands-on plastics technology or plastics engineering program faces is keeping the laboratory facilities and equipment up to date. This has been a challenge for the department in the past, but things are changing rapidly in a very positive way. The faculty at UMass Lowell, especially Professor Steve Orroth '66, have worked extremely hard to keep the plastics processing, design, and testing laboratories as up to date as possible.

Recently, the department developed a new "model" for keeping the laboratory facilities and equipment as close to the state of the art as possible. Working with UMass Lowell's Office of Development, the Plastics Engineering Department has developed a multi-year master plan for laboratory facilities renovation and equipment upgrades. The plan was implemented in 2000 and is on-going. The department's laboratory facility has been divided into 10 separate laboratories, each dedicated to a very specific lab activity. There are a number of plastics processing, testing and computer aided design laboratories. The new concept is to partner with leading corporations that excel in each of these 10 specific technology areas to jointly create new, state-of-the-art lab facilities.  You can view each of these new laboratories by going to Labs.

This new model for keeping UMass Lowell's Plastics Engineering Laboratories up to date is working well, thanks to the combined efforts of the UMass Lowell administration, the Plastics Engineering Department's faculty and our Corporate Partners.

The Future

Today, the Plastics Engineering Department at the University of Massachusetts Lowell has some energetic and ambitious plans for the future to better train the next generation of plastics engineers. Predicting the future requirements of the plastics industry is difficult, so the department depends upon the advice and guidance of an Industrial Advisory Board. This diverse group of 30 engineers and managers keeps the faculty abreast of industry trends and future needs.