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Chemical engineering


Chemical engineering is a branch of engineering that uses principles of chemistry, physics, mathematics, biology, and economics to efficiently use, produce, design, transport and transform energy and materials. The work of chemical engineers can range from the utilisation of nano-technology and nano-materials in the laboratory to large-scale industrial processes that convert chemicals, raw materials, living cells, microorganisms, and energy into useful forms and products.

Chemical engineers typically hold a degree in Chemical Engineering or Process Engineering. Practising engineers may have professional certification and be accredited members of a professional body. Such bodies include the Institution of Chemical Engineers (IChemE) or the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE). A degree in chemical engineering is directly linked with all of the other engineering disciplines, to various extents.

Chemical engineering emerged upon the development of unit operations, a fundamental concept of the discipline of chemical engineering. Most authors agree that Davis invented the concept of unit operations if not substantially developed it. He gave a series of lectures on unit operations at the Manchester Technical School (later part of University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology and now the University of Manchester) in 1887, considered to be one of the earliest such about chemical engineering. Three years before Davis' lectures, Henry Edward Armstrong taught a degree course in chemical engineering at the City and Guilds of London Institute. Armstrong's course failed simply because its graduates were not especially attractive to employers. Employers of the time would have rather hired chemists and mechanical engineers. Courses in chemical engineering offered by Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the United States, Owens College in Manchester, England, and University College London suffered under similar circumstances.

Advancements in computer science found applications designing and managing plants, simplifying calculations and drawings that previously had to be done manually. The completion of the Human Genome Project is also seen as a major development, not only advancing chemical engineering but genetic engineering and genomics as well. Chemical engineering principles were used to produce DNA sequences in large quantities.

Plant construction is coordinated by project engineers and project managers depending on the size of the investment. A chemical engineer may do the job of project engineer full-time or part of the time, which requires additional training and job skills or act as a consultant to the project group. In the USA the education of chemical engineering graduates from the Baccalaureate programs accredited by ABET do not usually stress project engineering education, which can be obtained by specialized training, as electives, or from graduate programs. Project engineering jobs are some of the largest employers for chemical engineers.

Modeling and analysis of transport phenomena is essential for many industrial applications. Transport phenomena involve fluid dynamics, heat transfer and mass transfer, which are governed mainly by momentum transfer, energy transfer and transport of chemical species, respectively. Models often involve separate considerations for macroscopic, microscopic and molecular level phenomena. Modeling of transport phenomena, therefore, requires an understanding of applied mathematics.

Chemical engineers may be involved in industry or university research where they are tasked with designing and performing experiments to create better and safer methods for production, pollution control, and resource conservation. They may be involved in designing and constructing plants as a project engineer. Chemical engineers serving as project engineers use their knowledge in selecting optimal production methods and plant equipment to minimize costs and maximize safety and profitability. After plant construction, chemical engineering project managers may be involved in equipment upgrades, process changes, troubleshooting, and daily operations in either full-time or consulting roles.