Allan Philip Colburn was born in Madison, Wisconsin on June 8, 1904. He graduated with high honors from the University of Wisconsin with a degree in Chemical Engineering in 1926, received his Master of Science degree in 1927 and his Ph.D. in 1929.
Colburn's research focused on the condensation of water vapor from saturated air streams, a topic that in its broader aspects interested him to the end of his life. To deal with this complex problem, he brought together for the first time in American engineering work, the fundamentals of momentum and heat and mass transfer along with thermodynamic principles. Although not known formally as a dimensionless parameter, the empirical Colburn 3-factor is indeed an operational one.
Colburn joined the Chemical Engineering Department at the University
of Delaware in 1938. He was appointed as Assistant to the President of
the University in 1947, Acting President in 1950, and served as Provost
and Coordinator of Scientific Research until his death in 1955.