Chemical Engineers: The Ironman of Superheroes.


I was thinking of a title for this blog and once the word superhero came to mind. Obviously, I couldn't let it go. So yes, as you may have guessed, Ironman is only the greatest superhero ever (well Thor also but he's not really into science) unlike sissy Batman and Spiderman...

Chemical engineers do remind me of Ironman though. They are super smart, resourceful, (more often than not) wealthy and extremely witty. Yes unlike other engineers we do have personality and are not socially awkward ;)

Perhaps I'm just biased because I'm a chemical engineering major myself. That's very unlikely though, as my 4 years in this major have not been a walk in the park.

Chemical engineers have done much to leave their mark on history. Take for example World War II. Many people think, erroneously, that majority of soldiers died from battle wounds. The actual culprits in these casualties were the infections that developed after the wounds were sustained. Fortunately, Alexander Fleming discovered Penicillin, the antibiotic, which would eventually solve the problem. However, another problem arose. The process of extracting this drug from bacteria was painstakingly long and only afforded little amounts of it. It was the work of chemist Jasper Kane and chemical engineer John McKeen that saw the production of penicillin on large enough scales to be used to turn the tide of the war.

As tempted as I am to go into how chemical engineering principles were used to solve the world food problem, I shall not. Instead I leave you with a history of the Haber Process for those of you interested in further reading.

I was curious about what my fellow classmates thought about chemical engineering and the program provided here at the U. So here are some questions I asked them and a few students' replies.

T: "What is chemical engineering about?"

S1:"It's about designing and supervising processes that make chemical products on a large scale. It entails process optimization/engineering, plant design, operations supervision but most importantly: SAFETY!

T: "Gosh you sound like a professor right now..."

S1: "That's what 4 years in the department does to you (laughs)"

T: "What are some courses people take in the undergraduate program?"

S1: "Like every other engineering major, we start off with the basic chemistry, calculus and physics courses. For chemical engineering specifically, a few of the core classes we take include:

Process control- to understand how to keep a process running at specifications you choose.

Transport phenomena- Dealing with fluid flow modeling and heat transfer topics.

Separations and diffusion-Pretty self-explanatory.

Materials science- The physical properties of materials (e.g. ceramics, polymers, metals etc.).

Thermodynamics-I have no words to describe this.

Numerical methods- How to model processes numerically. This is done because many of the processes we deal with are non-ideal and their models are not solvable by hand. So we build numerical models that approximate them in a simplified manner and make them soluble.

T: "Wow, sounds like you really liked numerical methods".

S1: "What can I say; we were drilled very well on the concepts in that class."

T: "I can't say I disagree. What have you learnt from the program here?"

S1: "I don't remember things from every single class. The lessons that have stuck with me more are those dealing with transferable skills."

T: "Can you explain that?"

S1: "Sure thing. I no longer rush into a problem blindly like I did when I first started. I observe then proceed with a logical and critical thought process. I now apply this method of thinking to everything I do like designing experiments, assessing and producing meaningful data. Most of all I havelearnt how to manage my time and prioritize. As you know, you won't always get to be the perfectionist you wish to be. [They] won't allow you"

T: "By prioritizing you mean between school, a social life and sleep?"

college_triangle.jpgWhat prioritizing may come down to in college sometimes.

S1: "Yup, that triangle but also between classes, assignments due and so on."

T: "Interesting. What kinds of jobs are available for people like you and me?"

S1: "You can work in virtually any field. Not like English literature, but you know what I mean! You can work in oil and gas production, paper industry, food processing, refining, pharmaceuticals, patent law, medicine, business (with an MBA), renewable energy, and the biomedical industry."

T: "Is there anything else you would tell incoming freshmen or prospective students about the program, fun facts and such?"

S1: "A couple things actually.
• If you have plans to go to graduate school, it's a great idea to get involved in research early.

***To find out more about doing research at the U, here is co-blogger Tarun's blog on the subject.

• I came into chemical engineering because I liked chemistry and math a lot. In the program we are required to take many chemistry classes, so with 2 or 3 additional classes, you can get chemistry major as well. However, core chemical engineering classes hardly center on chemistry, at least on the undergraduate level. Instead the classes more focused on using applied math.

• From early, you are encouraged to work on group projects. In higher level classes; you perform labs and write joint reports with group members. You will be put in groups with people you don't know and will learn how to work with different kinds of people; odd quirks and all. This is great since it simulates the environment you will be in when you enter the workforce.

• The program at the U is so very challenging. If you asked a junior about it they'd be likely to tell you to jump ship. It definitely is worth it to stick it through though. You learn so much about perseverance. Many people start here as the brightest from their high schools but the chemical engineering program really is an eye-opener. It is a talent leveler of sorts and in the end; you will have been well schooled on humility. However, if you can get through the chemical engineering program here, you can regard yourself as one of the foremost in this field--at least I believe so!

• We have many accomplished professors; a favorite of mine, Professor Cussler. He received an Ig Nobel Prize for settling whether people swam faster in water or syrup. I know, the award is not as prestigious as the Nobel prize but how many professors do you know who would turn a University swimming pool into a sea of syrup and have a varsity swimmer swim in it to run an experiment? How cool is that?!"

T: "What has kept you going all this time then? I suppose it doesn't hurt that we have the 4th best undergraduate chemical engineering program in America at the U."

S2: "(laughs) Not at all. To be honest, sophomore year I realized I would like to focus on biomedical engineering and biophysics for graduate school. I probably could have switched majors but the concepts I've learnt in chemical engineering are very easily applied in other fields. They are enough and maybe even more enlightening for my end goal."

That concludes my interview questions and describes chemical engineering and the U's program in a nutshell. If you have more questions feel free to ask!


As a chemical engineering student in the undergraduate level, will I mostly use applied maths to solve chemistry questions?

This is very useful for Me and also other student. Thank for sharing.

i see this blog side very nice i like this blog side .and all information very nice.

This is an excellent post I seen thanks to share it. It is really what I wanted to see hope in future you will continue for sharing such a excellent post.

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This page contains a single entry by Temilola Famakinwa published on December 5, 2012 4:39 PM.

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