Chemical engineers solve the problems that affect our everyday lives by applying the principles of chemistry. If you enjoy working in a chemistry laboratory and are interested in developing useful products for people, then a career as a chemical engineer might be in your future.
Persistence, curiosity, complex problem-solving skills, and excellent chemistry laboratory skills
Subjects to Study in High School
Chemistry, physics, computer science, geometry, algebra, algebra II, calculus, English
A bachelor's degree in chemical engineering is required for almost all entry-level chemical engineering jobs, but some basic research positions may require a graduate degree. Faculty positions require graduate degrees. Engineers offering their services directly to the public must be licensed. Continuing education to keep current with rapidly changing technology is important for engineers.
Beginning chemical engineering graduates usually work under the supervision of experienced chemical engineers and, in large companies, also may receive formal classroom or seminar-type training. As new engineers gain knowledge and experience, they are assigned more difficult projects with greater independence to develop designs, solve problems, and make decisions. Engineers may advance to become technical specialists or to supervise a staff or team of engineers and technicians.
Education and Training
A bachelor's degree in chemical engineering is required for all entry-level positions. Graduate training is essential for chemical engineering faculty positions and many research and development programs, but is not required for the majority of entry-level chemical engineering jobs. Many experienced engineers obtain graduate degrees in engineering or business administration to learn new technology and to broaden their education.
Admissions requirements for undergraduate engineering schools include a solid background in mathematics (algebra, geometry, trigonometry, and calculus) and science (biology, chemistry, and physics), with courses in English, social studies, and humanities. Bachelor's degree programs in engineering typically are designed to last 4 years, but many students find that it takes between 4 and 5 years to complete their studies.
Engineers should be creative, inquisitive, analytical, and detail oriented. They should be able to work as part of a team and to communicate well, both orally and in writing. Communication abilities are becoming increasingly important as engineers frequently interact with specialists in a wide range of fields outside engineering.
Nature of the Work
Chemical engineers apply the principles of chemistry to solve problems involving the production or use of chemicals and biochemicals. They design equipment and processes for large-scale chemical manufacturing, as well as plan and test methods of manufacturing products and treating byproducts, and supervise production. Chemical engineers also work in a variety of manufacturing industries other than chemical manufacturing, such as those producing energy, electronics, food, clothing, and paper. They also work in health care, biotechnology, and business services. Chemical engineers apply principles of physics, mathematics, and mechanical and electrical engineering, as well as chemistry. Some may specialize in a particular chemical process, such as oxidation or polymerization. Others specialize in a particular field, such as nanomaterials, or in the development of specific products. They must be aware of all aspects of chemicals manufacturing and how the manufacturing process affects the environment and the safety of workers and consumers.
Watch this video to see how Kimberly Ozkan-Bal's work as a Unilever chemical engineer helps keep thousands of people clean.
When designing new products, chemical engineers go through a process of several steps. The first step is to clearly specify the functional requirements of the product. Second, the chemical engineer must design and test the product. Finally, the engineer must evaluate the product's cost, reliability, and safety. This process has created many useful and novel products.
Most chemical engineers work in office buildings, laboratories, or industrial plants. Others might spend time outdoors at construction sites and at oil and gas exploration and production sites where they monitor or direct operations or solve onsite problems. Some chemical engineers travel extensively to plants or worksites both in the United States and abroad.
Many chemical engineers work a standard 40-hour week. At times, deadlines or design standards may bring extra pressure to a job, requiring engineers to work longer hours.
On the Job
Perform tests throughout stages of production to determine degree of control over variables, including temperature, density, specific gravity, and pressure.
Develop safety procedures to be employed by workers operating equipment or working in close proximity to on-going chemical reactions.
Determine most effective arrangement of operations, such as mixing, crushing, heat transfer, distillation, and drying.
Prepare estimates of production costs and production progress reports for management.
Direct activities of workers who operate or who are engaged in constructing and improving absorption, evaporation, or electromagnetic equipment.
Perform laboratory studies of steps in manufacture of new product and test proposed process in small-scale operation, such as a pilot plant.
Develop processes to separate components of liquids or gases or generate electrical currents using controlled chemical processes.
Conduct research to develop new and improved chemical manufacturing processes.
Design measurement and control systems for chemical plants based on data collected in laboratory experiments and in pilot plant operations.
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