What is Chemical Engineering?
Chemical Engineers in Action: Innovation at Work, from the American Institute of Chemical Engineers
Have you ever been asked "So what does a chemical engineer do, anyway?" Did you have an answer? Explaining what chemical engineers do is not always an easy task, even if it is your chosen profession.
Chemical Engineering is the profession that combines chemistry and engineering concepts to help solve problems related to world hunger, pollution of our environment, creating new materials, or meeting demands for energy. Chemical engineers develop low cost processes for producing ammonia, which make it possible for both poor nations and the United States to manufacture important fertilizers. They are instrumental in the production of virtually all pharmaceuticals as well as life-saving devices such as the artificial kidney or angioplasty catheters. They are working on ways to recycle plastics, reduce pollution, and develop new sources of environmentally clean energy. Chemical engineers have the background knowledge of chemistry coupled with an understanding of chemical processing that allows them to tackle most any chemical problem, from waste minimization, to environmental remediation, to clean-up of stack gases, to purification of drinking water. Most major chemical companies hire chemical engineers to fill their technical positions in environmental engineering.
A degree in chemical engineering opens many doors for diverse, challenging, and rewarding opportunities. Chemical engineers develop processes and chemicals to make food products cheaper, safer, and with increased yields. From these processes come products like orange juice, chocolate, corn sweeteners, citric acid, or vitamin E. They also provide know-how for chemical processing of computer chips and integrated circuits in the electronics industry. A vast array of consumer products like detergents, plastic sandwich bags, the soles of your sports shoes, car bumpers, vehicle tires, and many more are developed by chemical engineers. Biochemical engineering is an expanding field, where chemical engineers link chemical process knowledge into biotechnology areas. Chemical engineers are responsible for designing the industrial facilities that provide materials, petroleum products, and plastics that make our lives easier and more productive. To do these things, chemical engineers need to understand chemistry, mathematics, physics, and other physical and natural sciences, such as biology or geology. To help them understand the impact of technology on society, they may study economics, political science, and even a little psychology. Today, chemical engineers are also comfortable working with computers, using the latest and most powerful machines to help design newer and safer processes.
Chemical engineering is a career that is both intellectually and financially rewarding, one that can lead to high level technical positions, or to jobs in management, government, or academia. Some chemical engineering graduates go on to medical, law, business, or graduate school. If they do, they usually use their chemical engineering degree to specialize – for instance, a chemical engineer with a law degree might focus on patent or environmental law. The diversity of the chemical engineering field indicates that chemical engineers are an integral part of the fabric of the world industrial complex, and they will be called upon in the future to solve the worlds environmental, energy, and chemical process problems.
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