Biochemical Engineer

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Biochemical Engineer


It would be hard to imagine a world without gasoline, paper, pharmaceuticals, fertilizers, plastics, synthetic fibers, paint, film or any other biochemical products we use and demand in our daily lives. Whether it is bettering already existing products or creating new ones, we generally take these engineering inventions for granted because we have grown up with many of them and for that very reason, they seem like they have always been around. Yet the work and discoveries made by biochemical engineers have had an overwhelming impact on all of our lives.

Applying scientific and mathematical principles, biochemical engineers develop processes, design equipment, and provide technical and management services for plants and manufacturing companies that convert raw materials into a wide range of end products, like pharmaceuticals, food and fuels. They are concerned with the large-scale culture of living cells in fermentation processes.

Biochemical engineers are constantly putting their creativity to work, synthesizing new materials, transforming combinations of elements of matter and developing the processes to do it all safely, efficiently and on a large scale. Different areas of biological engineering include biotechnology, biomedical studies, food processing, agriculture and environmental studies. Biochemical engineers process and package many of the foods we eat, develop new medicines, help power our cars and heat our homes. For example, a biochemical engineer could work for a food manufacturer, making sure that the food processed is safe for human consumption (no e-coli or salmonella) or one could work in the health industry, making sure that medical waste is properly disposed of.

Biochemical engineers are like alchemists; they turn living or raw materials into valuable products. They usually work with a team of biologists and chemists because while scientists develop the products, the engineers create the processes required to produce them commercially.

Biochemical engineers extract existing data and design methods to design equipment and operating specifications for industrial plants. They take into account cost, safety and environmental concerns when conducting research and performing experiments. Biochemical engineers working in plants must ensure that the equipment is operating efficiently and safely and that the desired quantity and quality of product is produced. They often meet with manufacturers, lawyers and clients to make sure that design plans are safe and will withstand a number of conditional variables.

Biochemical engineers are required to constantly update their skills and knowledge in order to keep up with technological advancements in this quickly changing field.
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  Interests and Skills  
Biochemical engineers are analytical, creative and innovative thinkers with excellent problem solving skills. They have a natural affinity and aptitude for mathematics, biology and chemistry and can often visualize complex processes and design on computers. They possess excellent communications skills, both written and oral and have the ability to work well in teams with people from various disciplines and backgrounds.

  Typical Tasks  
  • Design, maintain and manage chemical, biochemical, pharmaceutical and materials processing plants and products
  • Design and operate quality and environmental control systems
  • Troubleshoot problems in chemical and biological industrial processing and manufacturing plants
  • Ensure efficient, safe and environmentally responsible plant operations
  • Supervise technologists, technicians and other engineers engaged in support activities
  • Choose the best instruments for measuring pressure, temperature, flow rate and composition
  • Advise management regarding the biological and chemical engineering processes to be used in a project
  • Determine the most cost-effective processes for commercial production
  • Design and develop new and better biological processes and equipment for converting raw materials into products using computers to simulate, model and control such processes
  • A typical day for a biochemical engineer will take place in an office, industrial plant or laboratory environment. They usually work standard workweeks, unless a deadline must be met or an emergency occurs, requiring the expertise of the biochemical engineer. Engineers who work in production may come in contact with hazardous machinery and chemicals on a regular basis.

  Workplaces, Employers and Industries  
  • Biochemical engineers generally work wherever there is a process of biological or chemical conversion, for example in pulp and paper manufacturing, biotechnology, waste management, petroleum refining and oil sands extraction. Some are employed by biomedical firms, textile manufacturers, farm machinery companies, engineering design companies, pharmaceutical companies, construction companies, biotechnology firms and environmental companies and agencies.
  • Most biochemical engineers work in businesses known collectively as the Chemical Process Industries (CPI), which include the chemical, oil and gas, food and beverage, textile and agricultural chemical industries, to name a few. They work alongside scientists, mathematicians, technicians and administrators. Those who work for the government may work in the Departments of the Environment or Energy, for example.

  Long Term Career Potential  
Advancement as a biochemical engineer is quite boundless. Since the fields of biological and chemical engineering are expanding, there will be many jobs in the new technological areas such as biomedicine, genetic engineering and other biotechnologies. Engineers can move to production management positions and supervise junior engineers. Some become scientists or concentrate their work entirely on research and development. Other engineers could use their skills and pursue careers in law, publishing, education or medicine. Eventually, some become Chief Executive Officers (CEO) or heads of other organizations.

  Educational Paths  
While still in high school, if this is the career path you are interested in taking, make sure you take courses in mathematics and chemistry. Most university programs will require these subject areas as prerequisites.

Biochemical engineers require a bachelor's degree in biological or chemical engineering or in a related engineering field. Then, they must also become registered as a Professional Engineer (PEng).

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition,
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, 2002,

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