Science and Technology


What it takes to become a chemical engineer

Robert Hayes Modified: June 26, 2013 at 3:20 pm •  Published: June 24, 2013

Why is school important?  How would you answer the question as to whether you would rather design paint or to apply it?  Lord we knows we need painters and God bless them but if I had a choice between only those two, I know which I would prefer.  I would rather be a chemical engineer so that I could do things like designing paint, glue, construction materials and cleaning products (rather than having to use them).  If you are interested in chemistry, math and science, you may be better suited to designing these things than using them.

Chemical engineering is the discipline and practice of manipulating atoms and molecules to create materials and products for industry and commerce.  This can include binding molecules together and mixing materials or separating them in defined sequences.  Designing the process can take a great deal of chemistry incorporating thermodynamics, material science, quantum mechanics and mathematics.  The kinds of final products which can be generated include medicines, semiconductors, dental products, clothing fibers and packaging materials.  Perhaps the most well known products designed by chemical engineers are extremely wide variety of plastics we have all around us in society.  The products form essential portions of critical medical devices and technology, energy generating components such as solar cells and fuel cells as well as insecticides, herbicides and fertilizers.  You could almost walk down every single aisle in Walmart, Kmart or Hobby Lobby and see some portion of almost every product which was designed by chemical engineers or somehow critically dependent on something designed by chemical engineers.

A bachelors degree in chemical engineering can be obtained from almost all state universities and many more.

Advances in biotechnology, nanotechnology, ceramics, medical products, glass and much more can be expected to continually advance with the help of chemical engineers.  They design distillation, polymerization, filtration and oxidation/reduction processes.  Being able to make a product that can stretch more, withstand higher pressure, temperature, or humidity, fade less, twist more, vibrate less, filter faster, hold more water and vice versa (on all these points and more) would often be done through chemical engineering.  Developing products that have different properties from the materials we already have supports our economy by allowing more diverse technology to develop.  Technology that can be sold and utilized to improve our standard of living.

As with other promising technology relying heavily on chemical engineers, energy and the environment have shown and can be expected to continue to show substantial advancement.  Fuel cells, solar cells and liquid fuel all require intense chemical engineering design to produce these commodities.   Environmental reclamation can often be avoided when the technology to prevent environmental damage is developed and utilized up front in all industries.  Most materials utilized for environmental cleanup were designed by chemical engineers.

Hopefully it is clear that not all chemical engineering is simply plastics and generating crude oil based organic materials.  The oil and gas industry do use a lot of chemical engineers but many chemical engineers might also be employed by pharmaceutical companies, semiconductor manufacturers or they may even choose to go on to graduate school at a university to pursue a career in research.  In truth, most new developments come out of research as traditional engineering is simply using the currently known and understood science in a practical way.  Graduate degrees from NMSU, NMT or UNM can allow one to do cutting edge research in any of the highly varied applications mentioned so far.

Although I personally worked on a dairy when I was very young, I quickly learned that I would rather design the fertilizer used in the field than to be the one who had to apply it.  Still, God bless those who chose to apply it, designing it would be useless without them.