Allan Philip Colburn was an American engineer, born in Madison, Wisconsin, on June 8, 1904. He graduated from the University of Wisconsin in chemical engineering with high honors in 1926 and was awarded an engineering fellowship for graduate studies. He received his Master of Science in 1927 and his Ph.D. in 1929.
His research was on condensation of water vapor from saturated air streams, a topic that in its broader aspects interested him to the end of his life. He brought together for the first time in American engineering work the fundamentals of momentum, heat and mass transfer along with thermodynamic principles to deal with this complex problem.
Although not known formally, perhaps, as a dimensionless parameter, the empirical Colburn J-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 provost and coordinator of scientific research until his death in 1955.