Chemical engineering is a field of broad scope, encompassing many activities of immense benefit to society. It is also a field that is currently developing rapidly in many new challenging and exciting areas such as biotechnology, electronics, materials, nanotechnology, biomedical engineering, materials discovery and development, and energy sustainability to name just a few. The pace of global competition is rapidly changing the ways in which chemical engineers must carry out their traditional tasks of process research, development, design, and plant operations.
What sets chemical engineering apart from the other engineering professions is the key role played by chemistry. Chemical engineers use chemistry to transform less desirable forms of matter into those that are more desirable. Examples are transforming natural gas into ammonia and this into fertilizer and many other products or converting a residual oil in a refinery into gasoline, kerosene, and heating oil. Many of the products that we use today such as plastics, synthetic fibers, medicines, soaps, and paints are the result of these transformations. Biochemical transformations are becoming increasingly important in the production of a wide range of useful products such as antibiotics.
Transformations by chemical or biochemical reaction are not the whole story. Products must be purified and unwanted byproducts separated for safe disposal. So separation technology is also an important aspect of chemical engineering. And both reaction systems and separations must be combined into processes in order to carry out the overall goal of converting feed materials into desirable products. This will require additional operations such as mixing, heat transfer, and materials transfer. To do this chemical engineers must have a strong background in basic science and mathematics; a thorough mastery of the relevant engineering science such as thermodynamics, heat and mass transfer, materials science, and reaction kinetics; as well as engineering economics, process safety, and process design.
A degree in chemical engineering prepares one to pursue any number of career paths. These include process research and development, product discovery and development, plant design and operation, sales and customer support, and for those so inclined, management. Chemical engineering also prepares the graduate for many other career paths such as medicine, biomedical engineering, law, government, and environmental protection.
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