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Chemical Engineering

The Breakdown

Take a look around you. Seriously, take a look. You are likely to identify a handful of objects that all resulted from the work of a chemical engineer. Indeed, everything from the mass production of pharmaceuticals to the plastic used to cover your telephone relied on the labor and knowledge of chemical engineers. If you are fascinated by the practical application of science, you might want to consider chemical engineering as a prospective major.

Should you pursue chemical engineering, you will benefit from an interdisciplinary education. Certainly, the field demands a firm foundation in physics, biology, mathematics, computing and, of course, chemistry. More specifically, you will learn about both the development and commercialization of new products and processes. In others words, you’ll study how raw materials can be transformed into valuable products through the manipulation and reorganization of molecules. And you’ll learn how to apply these processes to everything from fuel to polymers. Powerful stuff, right? As with virtually all science and engineering fields, your courses will include a healthy balance of classroom and lab work. Many programs also provide undergrads with the opportunity to participate with hands-on research, an experience you’ll likely find invaluable.

At this point, you’ve probably deduced that chemical engineers rely on remarkable quantitative skills. And you’re also likely aware that they must be great at analyzing data. However, just as important is the ability to be both flexible and adaptable. After all, you never know if your results will support your hypothesis. Moreover, chemical engineers frequently work in teams so social savvy and communication skills are necessary. Finally, you should be able to pull off the lab coat look with ease.

Nuts and Bolts

A chemical engineering course-load will likely include such dynamic classes as: Heat and Mass Transfer, Introduction to Catalysis, Chemical Engineering Thermodynamics, Chemical Process Control, Engineering and the Scientific Method, Biomaterials and Biosurfaces, Computational Methods in Chemical Engineering, Pollution Control, Risk Assessment and Management, Introduction to Polymer Science, Reaction Kinetics and Reactor Design and Chemical Reaction Engineering.

Decisions, Decisions

Chemical engineering undergrads are typically drawn to the sciences and are likely to also consider studying chemistry, biochemistry, physics, astronomy, electrical engineering, civil engineering, astrophysics, biomedical engineering, pharmacy, genetics, neuroscience, computer science, industrial engineering, aerospace engineering, nuclear engineering and mathematics.

What's Next

If you decide to major in chemical engineering, you’ll find yourself in a very fortunate position. Certainly, your skill-set will be in demand and you’ll have the comfort of knowing your major typically nets a high salary (yes, you’re hearing your parents weep with joy in the background). A wide variety of industries will be open to you including pharmaceuticals, food processing, health care and environmental protection. For example, you might work with food engineering, figuring out how to extend the life of a food product. Or, you might land a job as a biochemical engineer, developing safer pesticides. You can also work with oil companies, helping to determine better, more efficient ways to extract oil. Further, you could oversee quality control for the manufacturing of a wide range of products. Whatever you ultimately decide, you are guaranteed to have plenty of professional options.

Finally, it should be noted that although you can certainly find employment with an engineering degree, you will not be a full-fledged, licensed engineer. Indeed, you will have to pass the Fundamentals of Engineering Exam (known as the FE) administered by the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying. Upon successful completion of the FE exam, you will acquire an apprenticeship to qualify for the Professional Engineer exam (known as the PE). Once you pass the PE exam, you will become a fully-certified engineer!


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Don Munce