Cottrell, Frederick Gardner

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Cottrell, Frederick Gardner

(b. Oakland, California, 10 Jaunary 1877; d. Berkeley, California, 16 November 1948)

engineering, chemistry.

Cottrell was the son of the Henry and Cynthia Cotrell. He received a B. S. in chemistry from the University of California at Berkeley in 1896 and a Ph.D from the University of Leipzip in 1902.

Cottrell was the inventor of electrostatic precipitators for removal of suspended particle from gases. These devices are widely used for abatement of pollution by smoke from power plants and dust from cement kinds and other industrial sources. In 1912 he founded the Research Corporation, a nonprofit foundation for the advancement of science. Patents for the precipitators were assigned to the corporation as an endowment. Cottrell also arranged for the Research Corporation to secure and develop patents for inventors. About 750 patents have been obtained under this arrangement, with assignment of all or a part of the royalties to the corporation.

After receiving a Ph.D. in physical chemistry under Wilhelm Ostwald, Cottrell returned to the university of Californa as an instructor in chemistry (1902–1906). He continued teaching and development work on the precipitators until 1911, when he resigned from the university to become chief physical chemist of the U. S. Bureau of Miness, where he was successively chief metallurgist (1914), assistant director (1916), and director (1919). He became chairman of the National Research Council in 9121. In 1922 he was appointed direct of the Fixed Nitrogen Research Laboratory, which was concered with the development in the United States of the Haber-Bosch process for the catalytic formation of ammonia from atmospheric nitrogen and hydrogen. He resigned in 1930 to return to work associated with the Research Corporation. Cottrell played a part in development of a process for separation of helium from natural gas. He also had a role in establishing the synthetic ammonia industry in the United States and in a continued attempt to perfect a process for formation of nitric oxide at high temperatures.


Cottrell’s writings are “The Electrical precipitation of Suspended Particles,” in Journal of Industrial and Engineering Chemistry, 3 (1911), 542–550; “Recent Progress in Electical Smoke Precipitation,” in Engineering MIning Journal, 101 (1916), 385–392; “Oxygen Enrichment of Air in Metallurgy,” in Chemical and Metallurgical Engineering, 23 (1920), 53–56; “Utilization of Patentable Discoveries of Government Technical Research for the Benefit of Industry,” in Chemical Age, 28 (1920), 447–450; “The Problem of Nitrogen Fixation, I, II, III,” ibid., n.s. 11 (1924), 282–284, 310–312, 342–343; “A New Method of Producing and Controlling the Emission of Positive Inos,” in Review of Scientific Instruments, 1 (1930), 654–661, written with C. H. Kunsman and R. A. Nelson; and “Patent Experience of the Research Corporatioon,” in Transactions of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers, 28 (1932), 222–225. His patents include “Recovery of Idone and Bromine From Brines,” U. S. Patent 1,921,563,-564 (8 Aug. 1933), and “Electric Filtration of Materials as in Dehydrating Petroleum Emulsions,” U.S. Patent 2,116,509 (10 May 1938).

A biography is Frank T. Cameron, Cottrell—Samaritan of Science (New York, 1952)

Sterling B. Hendricks