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Chemical Engineering: Misunderstood

The No.1 Question all Chemical Engineers get from non-engineers is

What is the difference between chemists and chemical engineers? Chemical engineers just do chemistry right?

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From IChemE  Blog: “Chemicals Not Equal to Chemistry”

 

I got asked this over and over again and I truly feel that “Chemical Engineering” is a misnomer.

I’m still thinking up a name.  10 misconceptions about chemical engineering

Many people say it’s “Process Engineering ” because we generally deal with the process of producing chemicals but that is still one role that a chemical engineer might play. Other roles are control engineers, manufacturing engineers, quality engineers, safety engineers etc. I digress

Where was I?

Chemistry  10 differences between chemists and chemical engineers

Yes, we take chemistry classes to understand how chemicals work but we also take thermodynamics, transport phenomena, reaction engineering, fluid mechanics, process design, process economics, controls, operations, and safety to mention a few.

Why?

Because a lot of it is about scaling up those chemicals and the way things interact in test tubes is a whole lot different than gallons of the stuff. Things heat up, expand/shrink, cool down, react faster/slower….Then there’s scaling up effectively to reduce cost and process time

I think of it almost like mechanical engineering + chemistry (I can just hear loud protests from mechanical engineers)

We also take fundamentals of mechanical engineering, materials science, electrical engineering, programming…I know my university made some biology courses mandatory years back

Why?

Because we use knowledge of chemistry, biology, physics, mathematics & materials and we tend to work cross-functionally with other engineers .

I have no idea about the introduction to electrical engineering part. [Sorry EE folks. Any chemical engineer using Thevenin and Norton’s theorem, Capacitors, Signals and all that stuff. Please comment. This does not include Chemical Engineering Process Dynamics and Controls.]

Okay, the point is Chemical engineering is a hybrid, a curiously diverse mix. 

Yes, you can find us in a lab or cleanroom doing R&D

but

you can also find us on rigs (oil & gas), in plants (working in food, water, energy, paper, pharmaceuticals, health, cosmetics industries etc.), in offices (design and drawings) and sometimes we go into public policy, law, and finance but that’s another story

Here’s a video summary

 

 

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