A formula for excellence: Chemical engineering
Dr Robert Edyvean from the University of Sheffield explains why studying chemical engineering in the UK makes a world of difference.Chemical engineering applies science to the design, construction and operation of processes in which materials undergo changes, the applications of which are necessary for the production of commodities essential to our everyday life. These include food and drink, pharmaceuticals, fertilisers, man-made fibres, plastics, fuels, and energy. These manufacturing activities require processes that provide the efficient and safe conversion of raw materials into useful products; at the lowest possible cost, with minimum energy consumption while ensuring minimum impact on the environment. Chemical engineers are involved in developing new processes, synthesising new products and optimising the performance of existing process systems.
It is important to note that the study of chemical engineering is not all chemistry; there is as much applied physics and mathematics as chemistry.
All chemical engineering students study the same course in the first two years: covering maths, science and introducing chemical engineering.
After year two, students have a choice of either studying one more year for a BEng or two more years for an MEng. The MEng carries full accreditation for Chartered Engineer status and gives students the opportunity to specialise in a particular area. Year three includes a design project where students, in groups and individually, bring together their knowledge and apply it to a particular design problem.
Apart from providing the academic training required for a chemical engineer, British universities pride themselves on developing the sort of person industry wants, with transferrable skills which will allow him or her to stand out from the crowd.
Choosing a course
Studying chemical engineering in the UK gives you the opportunity to gain an accredited degree leading to the internationally recognised Chartered Engineer status. There are about a dozen UK universities offering chemical engineering degrees and all can lead to either a BEng or a MEng degree. After this a student can continue on to study for a specialist one-year Masters degree, a three-year research doctorate or find employment.
All chemical engineering courses in the UK are accredited by the Institution of Chemical Engineers. This means they have been closely scrutinised and inspected to ensure they provide a quality teaching and learning experience leading to graduates who are ready to face the challenges of industry.
Areas of specialisation
Chemical engineers can end up anywhere. They may go into research and development; in production; in the food industry or pharmaceuticals; energy, cosmetics, electrical, aerospace, water – the list is endless. They can specialise either through experience alone or a combination of experience with additional training. Examples are renewable energy, environmental engineering, process safety and biopharmacology.
For example, the bioprocessing and biopharmaceutical industries are crying out for graduates with the relevant expertise. The problem they face is that universities don’t produce enough suitably qualified graduates. However, British universities are looking to redress this imbalance with suitable MSc qualifications. They are designed to develop students’ skills and knowledge in this emerging field, thus preparing them for a professional career in the bioindustry or advanced bioengineering research.
Where chemical engineers are in demand
As hinted at above, chemical engineers are in demand everywhere. According to some assessments, they are also some of the best paid of all engineers. In Malaysia, chemical engineers top the list of professions most in demand.
A case in point: Malaysian student Adele Khor studied a BEng Chemical Engineering in the UK and graduated with a 1st Class degree. She subsequently stayed on to study for a doctorate. After two year post-doctoral research, the now Dr Khor works for a large international company in London and has prospects of global travel. Other Malaysian students have returned directly to very good jobs in Malaysian industry or carried on with further study and then returned home, often to the KL arm of an international company (such as PETRONAS, Shell, the palm oil industry, large pharmaceutical companies and many others) with jobs involving travelling the world.
UK chemical engineering graduates are truly international and this international outlook gives them an advantage when it comes to knowledge and employability. In the UK we encourage this outlook and provide the environment in which students can develop a broad range of specialist and life skills to their full potential.
AT A GLANCE
Chemical engineering is a hugely exciting career prospect for today’s teenagers. The scope of chemical engineers’ involvement in industry has never been broader. The challenges of sustainable growth in an age of global warming, alternative energy, and challenges to food and water supply, mean that entering the chemical engineering profession generates a wealth of opportunity.
Most important point
Chemical engineers work at the leading edge of industrial development and this includes engineering our future for sustainability.
There is virtually no area of industry in which chemical engineers do not have a part to play.
Dr Robert Edyvean graduated in Marine Biology and Zoology from UCNW Bangor and obtained an MSc in Biodeterioration of Materials from the University of Portsmouth. He continued with PhD studies on fouling and corrosion of offshore structures at the University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne. He went on to complete a research fellowship in Engineering Materials at the University of Sheffield, working on environmentally assisted corrosion-fatigue. The fellowship was followed by a lectureship in Chemical Engineering at the University of Leeds. He is now Deputy Head of the Chemical Engineering Department, back at the University of Sheffield. He can be contacted at email@example.com