What is a Chemical Engineer?
Chemical engineers utilize their knowledge of the physical world to manipulate the interactions of individual atoms and molecules.
Their talents are generally employed in the research and development of new materials and are critical to numerous fields including nanotechnology, energy storage, and computing.
Often working alongside other engineers in interdisciplinary teams to solve humanity’s greatest problems, chemical engineers are guaranteed to remain key leaders in securing our future prosperity whether on this planet or any other.
What does a Chemical Engineer do?
The job of a chemical engineer centers on the design and implementation of systems and processes that control and direct how an individual atom interacts with another. They apply the discoveries made by chemists to build groundbreaking materials with atomic precision. So precise are they that they have recently developed the capability to construct a nano-scale car the width of a single DNA molecule.
As a chemical engineer, you will likely spend the majority of your time in an office or laboratory designing and refining the mathematical models behind the materials and methods you develop while occasionally spending time on-site overseeing production or solving problems.
How does one become a Chemical Engineer?
The process of earning a degree in chemical engineering and becoming a chemical engineer is fairly intensive relative to other fields. The chemical engineering program at University of California, Berkeley (considered among the top institutions for chemical engineering according to USnews.com) submerges students in mathematics and the physical sciences (physics and chemistry, specifically) during their first two years then educates those students in the application of mathematics and the physical sciences in their final two years.
Many institutions offer cooperative education programs. Similar to an internship, these programs allow students to earn credit toward their degree by working on a project alongside professional engineers employed by the sponsoring company.
What can I expect from a career as a Chemical Engineer?
The field of chemical engineering is very secure, with the possibility of a very lucrative future awaiting those who are able to establish a solid career. This field enjoys almost full, full-time employment with corporate demand for chemical engineers expected to rise by 6% through 2020 according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).
Higher than average job security, combined with a median annual salary of over $90,000 according to the BLS, makes the life of a chemical engineer very promising. For those engineers whose work leads them to a truly groundbreaking development, even greater career opportunities become available should one choose to incorporate; in 2008, one CEO out of every five CEOs in the S&P 500 held a degree in engineering according to a report conducted by SpencerStuart.com.
How do I know if I want to be a Chemical Engineer?
As with all science-related occupations, there are substantial intellectual challenges you will be required to overcome. A substantial aspect of chemical engineering involves analysis and planning. You will be expected to scrutinize every detail of your work, correcting any errors you discover.
It is also possible that you will be expected to scrutinize details of your peers’ work as well considering both the collaborative and competitive natures of science. Those who choose to embrace these challenges often do so because of a unique creativity: the desire to improve upon that which already exists. The financial benefits they enjoy come second to their passion to create.
Is there anything available for me as a Chemical Engineer outside of my employment?
Many organizations and associations exclusive to engineers are available around the world. Well-known organizations based in the US include:
- American Institute of Chemical Engineers
- American Chemical Society
- National Society of Professional Engineers
- Order of the Engineer
- Engineers Without Borders
Though there are countless organizations for engineers of all disciplines around the world.