Alumni Profile: Albert L. Nerken ChE 1933
Albert Nerken was born in the Bronx. He attended Townsend Harris Hall high school. He attended The Cooper Union during the Great Depression. He dropped out of school for a while, but returned to graduate in 1933 with a Bachelor of Science in Chemical Engineering. He was one of only 7 graduates that year with this degree. He told a New York Times Reporter in 1987 that he chose this branch of engineering because it was the newest.
In 1935, Albert Nerken found employment as a physicist in Hampton, VA, working for the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, the forerunner of NASA, doing aeronautical research on such matters as airfoil design and airplane dynamics. From 1937 to 1943 he did development work on the conversion of agricultural products into plastics. His firm was located inside the Chrysler Building in New York City. In 1944, he received along with Herbert S. Polin, a patent (No. 2340426) for a plastic compound manufactured from the oil of green coffee beans.
During World War II Albert worked on the Manhattan Project, working on instrumentation that detects leaks in pipes for the diffusion plant in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He was employed as a civilian engineer for a company called Kellex, which was the engineering firm for the Oak Ridge diffusion plant, which worked with uranium hexafluoride in gaseous form. The uranium hexaflouride was used in manufacturing uranium for the atomic bomb.
After the war he and Frank Raible started the Vacuum Electronic Engineering Company (VEECO) to manufacture helium leak detectors, mass spectrometer leak detectors, high-vacuum laboratory equipment, and other laboratory equipment. In 1965 VEECO acquired Lambda Electronics, a maker of devices to convert alternating current to direct. Albert Nerken helped guide VEECO’s growth into an international company. VEECO had 2,500 workers and operations in Mexico, Singapore, Japan and Israel. Albert retired as its chairman in 1989 and the company was sold to Unitech the same year.
The AVS division of the American Physics Institute has an annual award named the Albert Nerken Award. This award was awarded every year from 1985 to 2014. The Albert Nerken Award was established in 1984 by VEECO Instruments, Inc. recognizing Albert Nerken, for his role as a founding member of the AVS, his early work in the field of high vacuum and leak detection, and his contributions to the commercial development of that instrumentation. The recipients were individuals who made contributions to technology using vacuum and surface science principles. The award included a cash award and a certificate.
Albert Nerken was a Cooper Union Trustee. Albert Nerken was awarded a Cooper Union Presidential Citation in 1984, and an Honorary Fellowship by the Technion Institute of Israel in 1987.
He was the benefactor of the Nerken Center for Geriatric Research at the Jewish Institute for Geriatric Care in New Hyde Park. In 1989, he gave 7 million dollars to The Cooper Union. The Nerken gift went partly to improve faculty benefits and to expand financial aid to students. At that time the Cooper Union Board of Trustees decided the Engineering School would be renamed in his honor. His 7 million dollar gift was announced at the same time as a new Campaign for donations that was hoped would bring in $45 million dollars. This campaign was launched in part to build the dormitory building.
Albert Nerken and his wife Jean established a foundation, Jean And Albert Nerken Foundation, located in New York City which continues to fund charitable causes. Some of the New York Metropolitan Region projects funded by Albert and Jean Nerken include: The Cooper Union Nerken School of Engineering, the Albert and Jean Nerken Laboratory for Infrared Spectroscopy of Quantum Structures in the Barbara and Norman Seiden New York Metropolitan Region Center for Advanced Opto-electronics.
- Cooper Union Gives Diplomas Tonight, The New York Times, June 8, 1933.
- Molding made from Coffee Bean Wins Patent for Two New Yorkers, The New York Times, February 5, 1944.
- Lambert, B., Albert Nerken, 79, an Engineer, Industrialist and Philanthropist, The New York Times,July 30, 1992. Link,
- Past Professional Awards, Albert Nerken Award, AVS Division of the American Physics Institute website. LinkWinners of the Albert Nerken Award Website Link
- Technion Honors, Technion Israel Institute of Technology, Website. Link,
- Obituary, Jean Nerken, The New York Times, JAN. 29, 2002. Link
- Van Gelder, L., LONG ISLANDERS; FROM ATOMIC PROJECT TO THE BOARDROOM, The New York Times, March 22, 1987. Link