Have you ever washed a load of your laundry with detergent? Or purchased a packet of chewing gum? Actually – anything from a service station really? Did you wash your hair this morning? Or if not, I hope you brushed your teeth? Each interaction you have with these everyday items are interactions with products of Chemical engineering.
It isn’t all white lab coats and test tubes (though, there is a little bit); simply speaking, Chemical engineering is all about turning raw materials into useful, everyday products.
Chemical engineering is a problem-solving profession with a practical bias, so expect to answer the question “how” more than any other.
You could be responsible for developing anything from microchips to hot chips. The clothes we wear, the food and drink we consume and the energy we use, all depend upon chemical engineering. Chemical engineers work out the processes to make all these products, while also helping to manage the world’s resources, protect the environment and ensure health and safety standards are met.
Much of this work is planning or as we call it, theoretical “modeling” of production processes. You get to work with maybe the most diverse group of professionals you could find on the same project – from chemists, accountants, human resource personnel, marketers, and even regulators or manufacturers. You are working to develop a product from the conceptualization stage into actually seeing it on the shelf.
I discovered my love of engineering outside of school, I don’t think I ever considered being an engineer while I was there. I liked asking how things worked, and taking things apart to look at their insides, and then put them back together. My alarm clock, the kettle – even the remote control (sorry Dad) – and even more, I asked questions about the ingredients in shampoo, wondered how each brand type could be so different.
I think these attributes over time evolved into my career as an engineer, because the principles are the same – you need a continually curious mind.
Day to day, I love the tangible results that come out of my efforts.
Yes, developing a new manufacturing process for a washing detergent might take a year, but each day you are working to build on the equation that you build yesterday.
Something that I love is that within this process there is an enormous range of size scales that you are working across – you might be examining atoms one day, but then in two months – calculating the feasibility of using an oil tank. One day looking to build the perfect balance between pressure and temperature in a production process and the next, running through the packaging designs with a marketing team.
Is chemical engineering for you?
Well firstly, you should be good at chemistry and maths (and of course actually like both of the subjects, because you will use them everyday!) Nowdays too, it helps to have some interest in molecular biology – this is DNA, the genetic code.
You need a continual passionate curiosity and you be one of those people that continually stays hungry for knowledge. By that, I mean wanting to learn and do more each day, pushing yourself each day to learn something new or be better than the day before. It all comes back to continually asking “how”. In this career you are continually looking to improve on the design and deployment of a product and sometimes this can mean that feel like you are working with moving goal posts.
Finally, you will also need a good dose of perseverance. By that, I mean that you will not succeed in this career if you give up at the first sight of difficulty or a failure.
How to get there?
In order to become a chemical engineer, it is important that you have a graduate degree in chemical engineering or you can also go for a degree in bimolecular engineering.