Chemical engineering is a discipline influencing numerous areas of technology. In broad terms, chemical engineers conceive and design processes to produce, transform and transport materials — beginning with experimentation in the laboratory followed by implementation of the technology in full-scale production.
Chemical engineers are in great demand because of the large number of industries that depend on the synthesis and processing of chemicals and materials. In addition to traditional careers in the chemical, energy and oil industries, chemical engineers enjoy increasing opportunities in biotechnology, pharmaceuticals, electronic device fabrication and environmental engineering. The unique training of the chemical engineer becomes essential in these areas when processes involve the chemical or physical transformation of matter.
For example, chemical engineers working in the chemical industry investigate the creation of new polymeric materials with important electrical, optical or mechanical properties. This requires attention not only to the synthesis of the polymer, but also to the flow and forming processes necessary to create a final product. In biotechnology, chemical engineers help design production facilities that use microorganisms and enzymes to synthesize new drugs. Problems in environmental engineering that engage chemical engineers include the development of processes (catalytic converters, effluent treatment facilities) to minimize the release of or deactivate products harmful to the environment.
To do these jobs, the chemical engineer must have a complete and quantitative understanding of both the engineering and scientific principles underlying these technological processes. This is reflected in the curriculum of the Chemical Engineering Department, which includes the study of applied mathematics, material and energy balances, thermodynamics, fluid mechanics, energy and mass transfer, separations technologies, chemical reaction kinetics and reactor design, and process design. These courses are built on a foundation in the sciences of chemistry, physics and biology.