The Field of Chemical Engineering

Here’s a quick riddle for you: what do the medicine in your cabinet and the fuel in your car have in common? No, I don’t mean that they’re both expensive. They both require chemical engineers in order to be produced. Look around you. Chances are, most of the products you use on a daily basis require the help of a chemical engineer to be manufactured on a large scale. Soaps, plastics, drugs, fertilizers, and fuels all require the skills of a chemical engineer to be produced. There are jobs for chemical engineers in almost any field that requires large scale production or manufacturing.

Image credit: Oklahoma State University

So, what exactly is a Chemical Engineer?

As explained by Live Science, “Chemical engineering is the branch of engineering that deals with chemical production and the manufacture of products through chemical processes.” Chemical engineers work in a variety of fields from oil refinement to pharmaceuticals.

What do Chemical Engineers do?

Chemical Engineers utilize chemistry, physics, biology, and math in order to solve problems related to producing or using chemicals. This most often includes designing equipment, systems, and processes for refining raw materials. As well as processing chemicals to make valuable products. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics “Chemical engineers work mostly in offices or laboratories. They may spend time at industrial plants, refineries, and other locations, where they monitor or direct operations or solve onsite problems.” In essence, chemical engineers work with chemical processes in order to produce products. With this description you may wonder, what is the difference between a chemical engineer and a chemist? While these two occupations may be somewhat similar, there are a couple differences. Chemists typically work in labs to create a specific reaction on a small scale. Once the chemist manages to produce the reaction he wants, it is then up to a chemical engineer to figure out how to produce it on a larger scale. This may include designing new equipment or processes in order to facilitate such a reaction.

What does it take to become a Chemical Engineer?

Chemical Engineers must have at least a bachelors degree in chemical engineering or a related field. If you’re currently in high school and considering becoming a chemical engineer it would be beneficial to take a heavy schedule of science and math classes. Classes such as chemistry, biology, and physics as well as high level math classes allow you to begin developing the necessary skills as early as possible. Along with having technical skills, it’s important for engineers to display ingenuity and creativity along with problem-solving skills.

What is the chemical engineering job market like?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, chemical engineers in the U.S. made a median salary of just under $110,000 in 2019. There were about 34,000 chemical engineering positions in 2018 with a steady growth around 6%. Finding a job as a chemical engineer may require moving as the job market is fairly small in the midwest United States. Licensing requirements aren’t as common in chemical engineering as in other fields, however certain licensing may be beneficial when looking for jobs.


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