What Is Chemical Engineering? What Do Chemical Engineers Do?

What You Need to Know About Chemical Engineering

Chemical engineers can work anywhere in the world.
Chemical engineers can work anywhere in the world. Betsie Van Der Meer / Getty Images

Chemical engineering sits at the nexus between science and technology. It's one of the major engineering disciplines. Take a look at what exactly chemical engineering is, what chemical engineers do, and how to become a chemical engineer.

What Is Chemical Engineering?

Chemical engineering basically is applied chemistry. It is the branch of engineering concerned with the design, construction, and operation of machines and plants that perform chemical reactions to solve practical problems or make useful products.

It starts in the lab, much like science, yet progresses through the design and implementation of a full-scale process, its maintenance, and methods of testing and improving it.

What Is a Chemical Engineer?

Like all engineers, chemical engineers use math, physics, and economics to solve technical problems. The difference between chemical engineers and other types of engineers is that they apply a knowledge of chemistry in addition to other engineering disciplines. Chemical engineers sometimes are called 'universal engineers' because their scientific and technical mastery is so broad. You could consider a chemical engineer to be a type of engineer who knows a lot of science. Another perspective is that a chemical engineer is practical chemist.

What Do Chemical Engineers Do?

Some chemical engineers make designs and invent new processes. Some construct instruments and facilities. Some plan and operate facilities.

Chemical engineers also make chemicals. Chemical engineers have helped develop atomic science, polymers, paper, dyes, drugs, plastics, fertilizers, foods, petrochemicals... pretty much everything. They devise ways to make products from raw materials and ways to convert one material into another useful form.

Chemical engineers can make processes more cost effective or more environmentally friendly or more efficient. Chemical engineers also teach, work with the law, write, create new companies, and perform research. As you can see, a chemical engineer can find a niche in any scientific or engineering field. While the engineer often works in a plant or lab, she's also found in the board room, office, classroom, and out at field locations. Chemical engineers are in high demand, so they typically command higher salaries than chemists or other types of engineers.

What Skills Does a Chemical Engineer Need?

Chemical engineers work in teams, so an engineer needs to be able to work and communicate with others. Chemical engineers study mathematics, energy and mass transfer, thermodynamics, fluid mechanics, separation technology, matter and energy balances, and other topics of engineering, plus they study chemical reaction kinetics, process design, and reactor design. A chemical engineer needs to be analytical and meticulous. Someone who is great at chemistry and math and loves solving problems would enjoy the discipline. Typically chemical engineering progresses to a masters degree because there's so much to learn.

More About Chemical Engineering

If you'd like to learn more about chemical engineering, start with reasons to study it. View the chemical engineer job profile and learn how much money an engineer makes. There's also a handy list of types of jobs in chemical engineering.