Chemical engineering is the application of chemistry to large scale industrial systems. It involves taking discoveries made by chemists and determining how to best use them on a functional scale. Chemical engineering is one of the main sub-disciplines of engineering, employing 31,700 individuals as of 2008 according to bls.gov.
Chemical engineering is commonly perceived as the ‘jack of all trades’ engineering specialty. The applications of chemistry are relevant to a wide variety of industries, ranging from bridge construction to nanotechnology. Chemical engineers are in high demand at manufacturing firms, green technology start-ups, electronics research and development centers, and energy companies. They can specialize in nanotechnology, materials science, biotechnology, and environmental technology. Chemical engineers are on average the most highly paid engineers, averaging 88,000 USD per year salary according to bls.gov.
To become a chemical engineer a student should focus on math and science classes in high school. At university, calculus, physics, and chemistry will comprise the bulk of the workload during the first two years. A chemical engineering student will need to be prepared to go deeper into the study of chemistry than any other type of engineer, and achieve a mastery of chemistry nearly as deep as that of a dedicated chemist. Thermodynamics, process control, and chemical engineering design courses will be essential in later years. Most chemical engineering students work on an in depth design project in their senior year, typically designing a chemical plant from the ground up. They often take five years to graduate, and getting an internship is key to securing the most lucrative job offer upon graduation.
Chemical engineering is a changing field. Emphasis on oil extraction and refining is decreasing as global supplies become more scarce. Young chemical engineers are as likely to work in nanotechnology or renewable energy as petroleum engineering. Many chemical engineers go on to do graduate work, and may specialize in bioengineering or environmental engineering at the graduate level. If a chemical engineer obtains a PHD, there will be opportunities working as a university professor. In this case the chemical engineer will be responsible for conducting original research and educating the next generation of chemical engineers.
Of all the major engineering disciplines, chemical engineering is perhaps the most unique and has the greatest application in interdisciplinary work. A difficult course of study, success can be rewarding both financially and intellectually.