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A chemical engineer is someone who influences various areas of technology by conceptualizing and designing processes for producing, transforming and transporting materials. Before a chemical engineer brings these materials to full scale production, there is plenty of experimentation in the laboratory.
Sometimes, chemical engineers are called "universal engineers" because their knowledge base and abilities are so broad. They have all the basic engineering training in math and physics as well as an in-depth mastery of chemistry and biology.
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Many chemical engineers work in manufacturing, designing machines and plants. It is their job to ensure that the processes run smoothly and in the most economical manner possible. Oftentimes, these types of jobs have the title of "process engineer." Chemical engineers are behind the creations and manufacturing of a wide range of products, such as plastics, paper, dyes, medicines, polymers, fertilizers, petrochemicals, and even many foods.
Energy and oil industries have always needed chemical engineers, but other job opportunities are growing even more. The demand for increased energy efficient and alternative energy sources is keeping chemical engineers with plenty of work to do.
Another growing field for chemical engineers is environmental engineering. Whether they are working on ways to clean up or prevent pollution, safely dispose of toxic waste, or manage a sewage treatment plant, there is no shortage of opportunities for a chemical engineer to work in environmental science. In fact, many companies hire chemical engineers to fill their positions in environmental engineering.
Careers in biotechnology and pharmaceuticals are also very abundant for chemical engineers. They are instrumental in creating and manufacturing drugs as well as medical and surgical supplies - everything from catheters to artificial kidneys or prosthetics.
Chemical engineering often overlaps with many other fields. For example, chemical engineers are needed for designing and manufacturing computer parts and other electronics, and they work closely with electronic engineers.
Nanotechnology is another growing field where chemical engineers work. This could be anything from using nanoparticles to purify contaminated groundwater, to working with DNA for gene or stem cell therapies.
These are just a few of the most common examples of what a chemical engineer may do for a career. Chances are if something is man-made, a chemical engineer had something to do with it.
Most jobs in chemical engineering require a minimum of a bachelor's degree. In the US and Canada, earning a BS or BA in chemical engineering will require intensive courses in math, physics, chemistry, biochemistry, and other related subjects. The engineering degrees awarded in other countries may have other names; for example, in the UK, students may pursue a bachelor of engineering (BEng Hons) or a more advanced master of engineering (MEng Hons) degree. However, the material that is studied is the same.
To become licensed as an engineer, university graduates may take the fundamentals of engineering exam, which is given by the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES). In the US, each state also has its own licensing exam for engineers who are going to work in the public sector.
Continuing on to earn a master's or doctorate degree is one way to increase job opportunities, earning power, and to specialize in an area of interest. Just a few areas of specialization for chemical engineers are biochemical engineering, biotechnology, polymers, polymer processing, materials engineering, agriculture, or pollution control.
Those considering a career as a chemical engineer need to be very science-minded and have good analytical, planning, and problem solving skills. An element of creativity is important for being able to come up with new solutions to problems. They must thrive on intellectual challenges. The ability to work both independently and as part of a team on projects is very important. Many engineers must read and write reports and papers, so written communication skills are also important.
The completion of the general education and core classes should result in a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering, which allows students to pursue entry-level job openings in the field.
With so many different industries employing chemical engineers, there is a wide variety of workplace environments. Large corporations, government entities, and small firms all need chemical engineers. However, most chemical engineers do work in larger companies as part of a team. About three-fourths of chemical engineers work in the manufacturing industries in some capacity.
Chemical engineers may work in laboratories or manufacturing plants, while some are outside doing field work. Many chemical engineers must wear protective equipment, like goggles and helmets when working around large industrial manufacturing equipment. This equipment is outdoors sometimes, and may require the engineer to be in adverse weather conditions. Other chemical engineers may spend their whole work day in the lab. Some engineers have the advantage of working in different areas, such as designing projects on the computer, testing them in the lab, and then moving on to the manufacturing phase. Seeing a project through to completion can be a very satisfying part of the career.
All chemical engineers do not wear hard hats, nor do they work solely in chemical plants. Spend some time exploring the many possibilities available to chemical engineers.
Dr. Joe Cramer has been a chemical engineer for nearly 45 years, and currently he is the Director Emeritus of technical programming for the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE).
Chemical Engineer Venus Kaur began her career at Southern California Edison seven years ago as an assistant nuclear chemical technician at the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station.
Anastasia Venable's Dream Job
Salaries for chemical engineers in the United States have surged in just two years as companies seek expertise to run plants they're building or expanding to take advantage of cheap natural gas.
Chemical engineers apply the principles of chemical engineering to identify and solve technical problems. Chemical engineers work mainly within the chemical and petrochemical industries.