Profession/Area of Study: Chemical Engineer
How did you get become interested in your field?: Growing up I knew that I wanted to work on the world’s biggest problems while helping to preserve the environment. Basically I was a kid who loved nature–I would practically live outside in the summer and practice dissecting bugs, fish in the creek, hike any trail I could, etc. I was obsessed with the fragile ecosystems and wanted to learn more about them. In school I took interest in biology, chemistry, math, and physics. I lived for group projects and hands-on labs. Over the course of my studies I came across the book “Silent Spring” by Scientist Rachel Carson–and it changed my life. The book documents her journey to conservation through research of new pesticides that had been commercialized in the 40’s, and it inspired me to choose a field that would keep me on the forefront of such technologies. I knew such technologies would be continually evolving and I wanted to be involved in the fact finding to best aid research and eventual production. So I chose chemical engineering, a challenging field that would provide continual education, and that was broad enough to cover my wide range of interests in the science industry. As a chemical engineer I am a biologist, a chemist, a physicist, a fuel scientist, a materials engineer, a process engineer, and so much more all in one. And I get to wear all of these hats at the same time.
Are there any STEM developments you are especially excited to see play a part innovating your field?: As mentioned above my field covers a wide range of industries–from biopharmaceuticals and rocket fuels to textiles and ice cream. The underlying strategies for research and production however are essentially the same, and I do see a few developments that are very exciting. On research realm, there is software currently in development to better aid engineers and scientists worldwide. Design of Experiments is providing statistical methodology to essentially create a clear and executable path to produce more inventions, faster. And then databases are being created to share this information in a very collaborate environment. For instance, the Kyoto Encyclopedia of Genes and Genomes is like a Wikipedia for DNA sequencing. Pretty cool! On the production side, I see many processes going toward 3D printing. This completely revolutionizes large scale manufacturing and will have some convenient applications for consumers in the future, too. Picture “printing” a hot cheesy pizza!
Furthermore, a major part of my field is Energy Engineering, and we see technology growing exponentially. A chemical engineer helps to increase capacity for wind turbines and solar cells while developing a more economical production–leading to the affordable green energy movement sweeping the globe.
Any advice for students considering studying/working in your field?: Chose a college that allows you to customize your electives, or non-core classes. This allows you to easily align your interest with your major without compounding additional credits. These electives may define your specialty that allows you to get a job with a certain industry. Also I encourage signing up with a professor to work in his lab. For a student this is some of the best hands on experience you can get, looks great on your resume and again may be able to count toward credit for your major (or at least offer some pay). This will allow you to develop your teamwork skills as you interact with your labmates, and I cannot stress the importance of teamwork in engineering. The world’s biggest problems are not solved by one person, but rather a team of people who all bring their own different educated perspective to arrive on sustainable solutions. So push yourself to learn about the new technology, ask questions to the area experts, and consider the impacts of your projects.