Chemical engineering is a subset of engineering, focused on chemical production and chemical processing. At its heart, the work frequently involves changing raw materials into useful things people use every day. Many of the developments within the field are life-changing and bring about impressive progress. Whether you’re interested in embarking on this career path or just want to learn more about it, keep reading.
What Does the Work Entail?
Much of the work in this sector involves creating new processes or products through the production or use of chemicals. Fertilizer, antibiotics and water sanitation methods are just a few of the many things professionals in this field worked on over the years. These engineers also have a substantial impact on the food industry. They develop new ways of creating, storing and transporting consumables to keep them safe and tasty.
A few recent developments in the industry will show you the diversity of the work. In 2019, a team developed a fast and economically viable way to turn algae into biofuel. Previous methods were too energy- and time-intensive. This innovation involves a jet mixer that extracts lipids from algae in seconds, paving the way for alternative fuel.
An Australian group developed technology that transforms carbon dioxide emissions into chemical building blocks. By manufacturing zinc oxide using a high-temperature technique, the researchers made nanoparticles that were catalysts for turning carbon dioxide into a mixture of hydrogen and carbon monoxide. Tweaking the ratio of those two could lead to creating things ranging from plastics to diesel.
Another achievement concerned using boron nitride as a catalyst to quickly destroy “forever chemicals” — so named for their long half-lives and the fact that they don’t naturally disintegrate. This new approach broke down 90% of one of the chemicals in this category after only four hours. That outcome happened after several other failed attempts, making it especially rewarding.
While in this profession, you can expect a substantial amount of laboratory work. However, fieldwork is also likely, especially while assessing the circumstances of a known problem. Because chemical engineering involves everything from new textile development processes to ways to fight climate change, it’s possible to pursue your passions.
What Will You Study in School?
People who are interested in entering this field need a bachelor’s degree at a minimum. You should also strongly consider getting a master’s degree. Having one could boost your earning potential and open up new opportunities to take positions with more responsibility. Working toward your doctorate is the ideal approach if your plans include focusing on research.
The foundations of your undergraduate education span numerous disciplines. Expect to take courses in chemistry, biology, engineering and math as a start. You may also delve into subjects like physics and computing.
There are also plenty of elective courses that you could enroll in to align with your career goals. For example, you might take a course in electrochemistry, pharmaceutical development or environmental science.
It’s smart to start searching and applying for relevant internships beginning in your sophomore year. Your university may have an office or department to help achieve that goal. However, it also helps to be proactive and see what’s out there. Exploring all your options could lead to better overall results. Many companies with chemical engineers on their teams — including 3M and Chevron — publicly advertise their internship programs and invite qualified candidates to apply.
The great thing about an internship is that it allows you to put your recently acquired academic knowledge into real-world practice. You’ll get a glimpse into the daily work and have chances to network with people that could advance your career.
Is Chemical Engineering a Good Fit for You?
It can be a bit nerve-wracking to decide on your career path, especially since there are so many options. Plus, people’s careers typically end up being significant parts of their lives for years and even decades. The topic discussed here is one of the four core engineering disciplines. It’s also a natural fit for analytical people and those who have multiple interests.
You’ll need to be comfortable thinking outside the box and having a problem-solving mindset. These professionals often spend time at industrial plants, especially when developing new applications or equipment for corporate employers. If you’re good at understanding the needs of a superior and not afraid to think creatively to meet expectations, this field could be for you.
Consider chemical engineering if you enjoy being part of a team and working together to achieve shared goals. It’s also helpful if you’re a strong communicator, a careful listener and confident when delegating tasks. All those traits will come in handy as you navigate the intricacies of group dynamics, regardless of the amount of authority you hold while on the team.
You also must be conscientious and willing to follow instructions. Chemical exposures and other inherent dangers can pose risks on the job. However, you can avoid them by donning protective gear and taking other appropriate precautions associated with the nature of your specific responsibilities.
What Should People Expect Concerning Salaries and the Job Market?
The job prospects and what you could earn are probably top-of-mind matters if you’re thinking about getting immersed in this kind of work. U.S. labor data indicates that this job category should grow 6% from 2018-2028, accounting for the creation of 2,100 new positions.
Information from the same source also notes that the demand for these professionals varies based on particular industries’ needs. It shows that the median annual salary was $108,770 in May 2019. However, your earnings typically go up with your level of experience. For example, a site specializing in earnings data showed that a person in an entry-level position could expect an average of $66,630.
You could kickstart your progress in the job market by paying attention to which companies typically hire these professionals. Next, go to the websites of those organizations and check out the job openings. Joining professional organizations and attending industry events could help you stay aware of what’s happening in the sector and opportunities within it.
An Exciting and Rewarding Path
This overview gives you a clear idea of the basics behind chemical engineering, including what people in the position do, how they prepare for the work and what they should expect after graduating. Regardless of whether you choose to work in the field, you undoubtedly have a greater appreciation for the people in it and the crucial projects that receive their expertise and insight.