Chemical Engineer

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Chemical Engineer


It would be hard to imagine a world without gasoline, paper, pharmaceuticals, fertilizers, plastics, synthetic fibers, paint, film or any other chemical products we use and demand in our daily lives. Whether it is bettering already existing products or creating new ones, we generally take these inventions of chemical engineering 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 chemical engineers have had an overwhelming impact on all of our lives. Applying scientific and mathematical principles, chemical 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.

Chemical 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. They process and package many of the foods we eat, help power our cars and heat our homes and develop new materials from garbage. Burning garbage creates energy and energy can be transformed into matter. Chemical engineers are like alchemists; they turn raw materials into valuable products. They usually work with a team of chemists and other scientists because while scientists develop the products, the engineers create the processes required to produce them commercially.

Chemical engineers will often specialize in a particular area once they become established, including biochemistry, the environment or petrochemical refining. Nevertheless, they all perform the same general duties as chemical engineers. They 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. Chemical 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, such as safety. They create engineering plans on computers using computer-aided design (CAD) systems, which simulate realistic three-dimensional models and test and predict possible errors and problems with a mechanism, generating workable solutions. Although most work takes place on computers or in laboratories, chemical engineers sometimes travel to meetings and factories to supervise and see their work in progress.

Chemical 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  
Chemical engineers are analytical, creative and innovative thinkers with excellent problem solving skills. They have a natural affinity and aptitude for mathematics and science and can often visualize complex processes and design on computers. They possess excellent communication 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
  • Design and operate quality and environmental control systems
  • Troubleshoot problems in 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 layout of industrial plants and the installation and sizing of equipment
  • Determine the most effective processes for commercial production
  • Conduct economic evaluations of projects to find the most cost-effective options
  • Design and develop new and better processes and equipment for converting raw materials into products using computers to simulate, model and control such processes
  • A typical day for a chemical 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 chemical engineer. Engineers who work in production may come in contact with hazardous machinery and chemicals on a regular basis, or be required to climb process equipment up to ten stories high. Therefore, they are usually in good shape.

  Workplaces, Employers and Industries  
  • Most chemical 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.
  • Chemical engineers generally work wherever there is a process of chemical conversion, for example in pulp and paper manufacturing, petroleum refining and oil sands extraction. Some are employed by instrumentation and control companies, engineering design companies, pharmaceutical companies, construction companies, biotechnology firms and environmental companies and agencies.

  Long Term Career Potential  
Advancement as a chemical engineer is quite boundless. Since the field of chemical engineering is expanding, there will be many jobs in the 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.

Chemical engineers require a bachelor's degree in chemical engineering or in a related engineering field. Then, they must also become registered as a Professional Engineer (PEng) within an association of professional engineers to secure employment and practice in their field. Some engineers also get master's degrees in a specific area, such as genetic engineering.

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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