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Chemical, Biological & Materials EngineeringOU HomeChemical, Biological and Materials Engineering

Why Chemical, Biological and Materials?

What Do Chemical Engineers Study?

Chemical engineers study how to convert low value raw materials into high value products by making highly specific chemical changes in that material. This typically involves designing or discovering novel processes rather than devices or products. Chemical engineers must have a good knowledge of the chemical nature of materials, and they must be able to predict how chemical changes to the molecular structure of a material will alter the ultimate physical properties of a material.

As a simple example, consider preparing a meal of hamburgers. The chemical engineer recognizes that the meat must be heated to a hot enough temperature to cook the meat (about 160°F) but not so hot that the surface of the burger is burned. The chemical engineer would design a process to accomplish this task, a series of steps and devices to be used so that one achieves a high value product from a lower value raw material. With cooked food, this is easy since we have thousands of years of practical experience. With new materials we need to be able to predict how different treatments will alter the chemical structure of the raw material in a way that gives us the desired final product.

What Do Chemical Engineers Do?

  • Chemical engineers work in manufacturing, pharmaceuticals, healthcare, design and construction, pulp and paper, petrochemicals, food processing, specialty chemicals, microelectronics, electronic and advanced materials, polymers, business services, biotechnology, and environmental health and safety industries, among others.
  • Chemical engineers rely on their knowledge of mathematics and science—chemistry, biology and physics— to overcome technical problems safely and economically. And, of course, they draw upon and apply their engineering knowledge to solve any technical challenges they encounter.
  • They don't only “make things,” though. Their expertise is also applied in the areas of law, education, publishing, finance, and medicine, as well as in many other fields that require technical training.
  • Chemical engineers improve food processing techniques, and methods of producing fertilizers, to increase the quantity and quality of available food.
  • They also construct the synthetic fibers that make our clothes more comfortable and water resistant; they develop methods to mass-produce drugs, making them more affordable; and they create safer, more efficient methods of refining petroleum products, making energy and chemical sources more productive and cost effective.
  • Chemical engineers also develop solutions to environmental problems, such as pollution control and remediation.
  • And yes, they process chemicals, which are used to make or improve just about everything you see around you.
  • Chemical engineers face many of the same challenges that other professionals face, and they meet these challenges by applying their technical knowledge, communication and teamwork skills; the most up-to-date practices available; and hard work. Benefits include financial reward, recognition within industry and society, and the gratification that comes from working with the processes of nature to meet the needs of society.

Please consider this very versatile area of study for your college education!

Excerpts from the American Institute of Chemical Engineers at www.aiche.org. Also check out www.students.aiche.org and the local chapter at AICHE.