TRYENGINEERING CAREER PATHWAYS
Chemical engineers have a huge impact on many products we use every day, because chemicals are involved in many products. Chemical engineers around the world design and manage the processes and equipment for large-scale manufacturing of all sorts of chemicals used in many products. They also work in a variety of manufacturing industries other than direct chemical manufacturing, such as those producing medicines, energy, electronics, food, clothing, and paper.
Chemical engineers rely on their knowledge of mathematics and science, particularly chemistry, to overcome technical problems safely and economically. And, of course, they draw upon and apply their engineering knowledge to solve any technical challenges they encounter. There are challenges that arise in the production of chemical and these are solved by Chemical engineers.
What makes it unique?
Chemical engineers blend skills in a range of areas, including chemistry, biology, physics, and math to solve problems that involve the production or use of chemicals, fuel, drugs, food, and many other products. They have to have experience in a range of areas to get the job done!
The following are examples of some accredited degrees leading to a career in chemical engineering:
- Chemical Engineering
- Chemical Engineering Technology
- Aerospace Engineering
- Biomedical Engineering
- Petrochemical Engineering
Search our global database of accredited engineering programs.
Want to learn more?
Click on the blue tabs to explore the field in more detail and learn about preparation and employment, the green tabs to be inspired by people working in Chemical engineering and how they impact the world, and the orange tabs for ideas on how to learn more and you can get involved with activities, camps, and competitions!
Problem solving is a key task for a Chemical engineer. In addition to working out processes to ensure safe and efficient chemical manufacturing, their expertise is also applied in the areas of law, education, publishing, finance, and medicine, as well as many other fields that require technical insights.
Their daily work is often impacted by the area they specialized in. Some may specialize in a particular chemical process, such as oxidation or polymerization. Others specialize in a particular field, such as nanomaterials, or in the development of specific products. But they must be aware of all aspects of chemical manufacturing and how the manufacturing process affects the environment and the safety of workers and consumers.
In the course of a day they may have to jump between several different projects, or advise clients or others on a range of topics. Multitasking is part of the job of a Chemical engineer!
Safe Water for Drinking:
According to survey of chemical engineers, clean drinking water ranked at the top of the chemical engineering inventions that had impacted the world. For some, access to safe water is taken for granted, but all over the world many people struggle with access to safe water. Most of the water available to us is salt water. Desalinization is a process through which salt and minerals are removed from salt water to create a fresh water supply, just one example of how chemical engineers work to provide safe water.
There are also legal limits which vary in different countries regarding how many contaminants are acceptable in drinking water. Chemical engineers work to solve problems related to removal of contaminants to meet standards. The World Health Organization provides many facts on the challenges of providing safe drinking water around the world. Recognizing the growing challenge of water scarcity the UN General Assembly recently launched the Water Action Decade, to mobilize action that will help transform how we manage water.
Take a tour via the video to the right of the purification process used at the Iowa City Water Plant to see how 5.6 million gallons of clean, safe drinking water are produced each day!
Chemical engineers work in manufacturing, pharmaceuticals, healthcare, design and construction, pulp and paper, petrochemicals, food processing, specialty chemicals, polymers, biotechnology, and environmental health and safety industries, among others.
They also contribute to the development of the following products: agricultural chemicals, industrial gases, paints, pigments and inks, as well as soaps, detergents, perfumes, and cosmetics. Even synthetic fibers, other textiles and films require the support of chemical engineers!
With so many applications, chemical engineers are employed all around the world by many companies. Just a few examples of larger firms are listed below but you can find chemical engineers employed in every major city!
For most engineering careers:
- a bachelor’s degree is required
- a master’s degree may be recommended for those specializing or interested in management
- students may also start with a related associate degree and then move on to a bachelor’s when they have settled on a degree path.
- many students are required to participate in a co-op program while at university to gain real world experience in their chosen field.
- education doesn’t really stop…engineers need to stay current as technology changes and materials and processes improve over time.
- many professional societies offer certificates and coursework to support continuing education for their members.
For chemical engineering specifically, and despite its name, a chemical engineering education includes not just chemistry, but also biology, physics, and mathematics. IChemE offers a Student pocketbook PDF with concepts, principles and formulae for chemical engineering students.
It is important to select an engineering degree that has been accredited to meet basic standards. Find out more and browse TryEngineering’s global database of accredited engineering and computing programs.
One of the best ways to explore what it might be like to work in chemical engineering is to learn about people currently working in the field, and those who have had an historical impact.
The following links offer more chances to see what people are doing in the field of chemical engineering:
- Robert Langer, biochemical and biomedical engineer, Langer works at the cutting edge of research into biologically compatible synthetic material.
- Explore problem solving techniques with ’05 Penn State chemical engineering Brad Sutliff.
- Thousands of young scientists in New Mexico have Jessie Linder to thank for their inspiration to question the universe.
And, there are many notable engineers who have left their marks on history, including ten chemical engineers that shaped our world! And watch an interview about innovation in chemical engineering and how chemical engineers can transform the future!
Providing medications to patients in exact doses that can be relied on to be consistent is one of the greatest contributions of chemical engineering. While a chemist would invent a new drug, it is the chemical engineer who develops and oversees the manufacturing process to ensure that millions of pills all contain exactly the same dose throughout production. They are also responsible for ensuring the product safety and purity, as well as considering the cost and time efficiency of the process to ensure profit margins. They have to do all this while adhering to industry regulations and also having a plan for disposing of waste products. In the end, it means that safe drugs can be efficiently made to help people all over the world with their health needs.
In the pharmaceutical industry, chemical engineers might work at various stages of production including, device development, research and development, testing and quality control, manufacturing, project management and system design. See examples of how collaboration helps Biogen develop processes for delivering drugs safely in the video to the right!
Dig deeper into topics related to chemical engineering that interest you!
- What Do Chemical Engineers Do?: AiChE, US
- What is Chemical Engineering? Includes information about the types of courses in the curriculum.
Try it Out:
Clubs, competitions, and camps are some of the best ways to explore a career path and put your skills to the test in a friendly-competitive environment.
- There may be clubs in your community related to chemistry and chemical engineering. But, any science or math club will give you some additional experience in fields that will help you prepare for studying engineering at the university level.
- AIChE invites K-12 students, their parents, and educators to learn about STEM, chemical engineering, and different STEM career paths from real life STEM professionals through their STEM Showcase.
- European Federation of Chemical Engineering (EFCE) hosts an annual Student Mobility Award to honor the best European students of chemical engineering who have spent one or more semesters studying abroad.
- AIChE Chemical Engineering for Good Challenge encourage chemical engineering students to consider how chemical engineering know-how can be applied to improve the quality of life of communities in the developing world
- TryEngineering Summer Institute: Attend the TryEngineering Summer Institute to further your core engineering skills.
- Minority Introduction to Engineering and Science, Cambridge US: MIT program for senior preuniversity students who select five of 14 rigorous academic courses to study over a six-week residential program.
- New Jersey Institute of Technology Chemical Engineering Program, a 4-week program designed to provide post-7th-grade students with an introduction to the field of chemistry and chemical engineering.
Many universities offer summer engineering experiences. Reach out to your local university’s engineering department to see what they offer.
Did you know you can explore chemical engineering in your community? Investigate how water arrives at your home kitchen sink.
- Does it come from an underground well or does your town provide water through a piping system?
- What sort of testing does the water undergo to ensure it is safe to drink? Is this a task done by the town you live in, or do you test your own water?
- What systems are in place locally to treat water if it does not meet standards?
- Do you think standards are the same in every town, every country?
- If you were camping, and the water source was a local stream, would it be safe to drink? How would you know?
- How do you think chemical engineering has played a role to help ensure that safe drinking water is available around the world?
Find out more:
- Explore Water, The Chemical Engineer, UK
- Chemical Safety of Drinking Water, World Health Organization
- Careers in the water industry for chemical engineers, AIChE, US.
Be sure to reach out to professional societies focused on chemical engineering where you live. Not all will offer membership to pre-university students, but most offer groups for university students, and certainly offer online resources to help you explore the field. For example, AiChE connects their university student members from all over the world on a “Student Central” portal. Some examples of groups focusing on chemical engineering:
- American Institute of Chemical Engineers, US
- Danish Society of Chemical Engineers, Denmark
- European Federation of Chemical Engineering
- Italian Association of Chemical Engineering, Italy
- National Organization of Black Chemists and Chemical Engineers, US
- The Institution of Chemical Engineers, UK
- Turkish Chamber of Chemical Engineers, Turkey