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Offline Bublik

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Chemistry vs. Chemical Engineering?
« on: October 27, 2012, 09:51:41 PM »
Hey there, I'm in my final year of high school and I'm trying to make a decision for my undergrad degree.

I love chemistry, math and physics (and some bio here and there), but I think I am really developing a passion for chem. I do fairly well on chemistry contests and enjoy solving interesting problems like the ones the chemistry Olympiad offers.

I guess I just want some insight from experienced people, because I don't really understand the difference between the outcomes of chemistry vs. chemical engineering. Ideally, I would want to be doing research at a lab - I don't care that much about money (it's funny how I am obliged to mention this when talking about a research job).

All personal experiences would be very appreciated,

Thanks

Offline eazye1334

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Re: Chemistry vs. Chemical Engineering?
« Reply #1 on: October 29, 2012, 07:44:21 AM »
If you want research, then I would absolutely point you towards chemistry. Chemical engineering is more the application side of things. While I do some lab work here and there, 90% of what I do is related to process and production. The only time I spend in a lab is to troubleshoot production and work on scale-up decisions. Don't do ChE if your end goal is research.

Offline curiouscat

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Re: Chemistry vs. Chemical Engineering?
« Reply #2 on: October 29, 2012, 08:29:37 AM »
If you value breadth over depth go for ChEng.; you'll be surprised the sort of learning and courses one gets exposed to.

ChEng. is less Chemistry than what a lot of people think it involves. OTOH you'll learn multidisciplinary stuff most Chemists hardly ever take classes in.

Some particularly useful areas are: Heat Transfer, Fluid Mechanics, Equipment Design, Control Engineering, Rotating Equipment, Piping.

Coming to potential downsides: It can be a lot less rigorous than a major in Chemistry ; be ready to work with numerous correlations, fudge factors, empirical design etc. You end up being a sort of Jack o' all trades...
And you'll never win the Nobel Prize  ;D

Offline Bublik

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Re: Chemistry vs. Chemical Engineering?
« Reply #3 on: October 29, 2012, 11:58:13 AM »
Thank you very much for your responses. I'm definitely leaning towards chemistry now.

Offline fledarmus

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Re: Chemistry vs. Chemical Engineering?
« Reply #4 on: October 29, 2012, 12:10:44 PM »
Agree with curiouscat - chemical engineering is almost all engineering, with very little of what we think of as chemistry involved. The part of chemistry that is involved consists almost entirely of either the energetics of chemical reactions so the appropriate heat addition/removal systems can be added to the process, or the physical states of chemicals so the appropriate materials handling components can be added.

If you want to do research in a chemistry lab, you will be doing chemistry. If you are a chemical engineer, your "lab research" will consist of designing small plants to run your chemical reactions.

On the other hand, there is an open space between lab research and plant design that is typically called "process development" or something similar, which could benefit very strongly from chemists with a strong background in chemical engineering, or chemical engineers with a strong backgound in chemistry. Typically, that division of a large company contains both chemists and chemical engineers, and in every case I've seen so far, they do not get along very well with each other. Neither truly understands the other's field, or respects their contribution to the final product. If you really like that field, a double major would be very useful. Unfortunately, the class work is so different and extensive that this typically means at least an additional 1-2 years of undergraduate work, assuming you can get the required permissions to take the classes.

Offline curiouscat

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Re: Chemistry vs. Chemical Engineering?
« Reply #5 on: October 29, 2012, 12:41:40 PM »
On the other hand, there is an open space between lab research and plant design that is typically called "process development" or something similar, which could benefit very strongly from chemists with a strong background in chemical engineering, or chemical engineers with a strong backgound in chemistry. Typically, that division of a large company contains both chemists and chemical engineers, and in every case I've seen so far, they do not get along very well with each other.

Totally agree with @fledarmus. The few people who do have a good handle on both the Chemistry and the Engineering quickly get very valuable.

I will say though, that I've known more Che. Engs. who were also good at Chemistry than Chemists who were good at Engineering. Maybe I'm prejudiced, but I think the reason is that at the Univs. Chemists are groomed as Specialists whereas Engineers as Generalists. I may be wrong.

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Neither truly understands the other's field, or respects their contribution to the final product. If you really like that field, a double major would be very useful. Unfortunately, the class work is so different and extensive that this typically means at least an additional 1-2 years of undergraduate work, assuming you can get the required permissions to take the classes.

As an aside though, Process Dev. has a lot of PhDs /  MSs etc. So one option is to even out your skillset in Grad. School.

Offline eazye1334

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Re: Chemistry vs. Chemical Engineering?
« Reply #6 on: October 29, 2012, 01:26:05 PM »
Totally agree with @fledarmus. The few people who do have a good handle on both the Chemistry and the Engineering quickly get very valuable.

I will say though, that I've known more Che. Engs. who were also good at Chemistry than Chemists who were good at Engineering. Maybe I'm prejudiced, but I think the reason is that at the Univs. Chemists are groomed as Specialists whereas Engineers as Generalists. I may be wrong.

That's typically what I've seen as well. Of the chemists I've worked with, nearly all of them had trouble grasping "real world" constraints. Often they would present a design and then be upset when we had to change it drastically to conform to the plant constraints. Of course, I'm also biased as I've never been on the chemist side of the scenario.

The generalist vs. specialist comment is also very valid. My alma mater specifically tailored their ChE program to process development, which requires a lot of non-chemistry work. At my job now, I even have to get into some electrical/mechanical engineering concepts on the fly to make everything work. The "jack-of-all-trades" idea definitely appeals to some people and not at all to others.

Offline curiouscat

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Re: Chemistry vs. Chemical Engineering?
« Reply #7 on: October 29, 2012, 02:20:23 PM »
One of the problems is you've already read books on "Chemistry" but (probably) none on Chemical Engineering. The conception I had of what a Che.Eng. studies when I finished High School was totally different from what we actually did.

One sugesstion is that if you have access to a local library check out some books in the Chem. Eng. section (if you are lucky to find one! )

The internet has made this easy too. Try:

Unit Operations of Chemical Engineering [ McCabe Smith Harriott]
http://www.amazon.com/Operations-Chemical-Engineering-Warren-McCabe/dp/0070393664

Perry's Chemical Engineers' Handbook, Eighth Edition
http://www.amazon.com/Perrys-Chemical-Engineers-Handbook-Eighth/dp/0071422943


Amazon has a preview available so you can sample both books online for free.

Maybe others can suggest better titles for a "sampler".

PS. Don't worry that the material seems hard; just try to imagine the areas you'll study.

Offline Bublik

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Re: Chemistry vs. Chemical Engineering?
« Reply #8 on: October 29, 2012, 03:45:09 PM »
Thanks to all, this is a lot more than I could ask for.

Since I want more depth in studying chemistry, the subject itself sounds a lot more appealing to me, for now at least. I'm sure that both chemistry and chemical engineering are interesting and challenging, but I feel like I would want to work more with the science rather than the design. Also, to me it does make more sense to be a specialist of something, rather than "a Jack o' all trades", like curiouscat says. 

The chemical engineering books on Amazon unfortunately only had the intro and appendixes in their "samples".

I can understand how an education in both chemistry and chemical engineering can make someone valuable - especially after all the varied input - but I think that a double major is just too much work, and time. They are both pretty heavy subjects, and at my school of interest, engineering by itself is considered a huge course load.

easye1234, when you say, "Of the chemists I've worked with, nearly all of them had trouble grasping "real world" constraints. Often they would present a design and then be upset when we had to change it drastically to conform to the plant constraints. Of course, I'm also biased as I've never been on the chemist side of the scenario." I can see that happening very well  :P I do have another question which arises from this:

What would a typical chemical engineer's project look like? I know now that it has to do with designing plants to run chemical reactions - so, to me it sounds like the making of some sort of blueprint which attempts to achieve maximum yield of a product, which essentially another company is selling. This is reminding me of how sea salt is extracted from seawater - I recall watching the extraction process while I was away for vacation. Would that process be something that would be designed by a chemical engineer? What do you guys, as chemical engineers, typically find yourselves working on?

Once again, thanks a lot for all the input. It's a great help.

Offline curiouscat

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Re: Chemistry vs. Chemical Engineering?
« Reply #9 on: October 29, 2012, 04:12:19 PM »

What would a typical chemical engineer's project look like? I know now that it has to do with designing plants to run chemical reactions - so, to me it sounds like the making of some sort of blueprint which attempts to achieve maximum yield of a product, which essentially another company is selling. This is reminding me of how sea salt is extracted from seawater - I recall watching the extraction process while I was away for vacation. Would that process be something that would be designed by a chemical engineer? What do you guys, as chemical engineers, typically find yourselves working on?


In terms of areas, some of the big employers are: Petroleum Refining, Pharma,Plastics,  Bulk Chemicals, Fine Chemicals, Food Processing. 

About types of projects, some types:

*Expanding the capacity of a current process. This can be by changing reaction conditions, optimizing existing equipment or simply buying a larger machine at the bottleneck.

*Designing the Process for a totally new chemical or drug

*Making an existing product via a new route. Deciding the relative feasibility among of several routes. (Can't be left to a Chemist!  :P ). Often, it is not just the yields; but the cost of capital equipment. e.g. Corrosive reagents or high pressures may need Exotic Materials of Construction.

*Safety or pollution oriented changes to existing plant. Complying with the hundreds of regulations and inspectors out there. Documentation. Audits.  ::)  (Sorry, this part isn't very glamorous)

*Changing batch operations to continuous ones. Deciding optimum scheduling and blending operations.

*Scaling up: A chemist might have made 100 gm of the drug in a flask and we get to figure how to make 10 tons in a plant.


Another way to look at it is along the lifecycle of a typical project:
Deciding if a project makes sense monetarily; Then choosing the basic route and reaction conditions (e.g. steps, reagents, temperatures, Pressures, Seperation scheme etc.) This part is where the Chemists are kings and get to boss around.  :)

After that comes a detailed design where every piece of equipment is sized. Suitable control schemes and automation is decided. Followed up by the mechanical and piping design. This is the stage you get to work with many other experts like Mechanical, Civil, Electrical Engineers etc.

Then come the part where equipment is actually ordered; lots of contracts get made.  Project engineers then install and commission all the equipment. Startup can be an exciting time.  >:D

Then comes the routine operation and maintainance of  an ( hopefully ) well-running plant.
« Last Edit: October 29, 2012, 04:29:52 PM by curiouscat »

Offline curiouscat

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Re: Chemistry vs. Chemical Engineering?
« Reply #10 on: October 29, 2012, 05:05:29 PM »
Quote
I know now that it has to do with designing plants to run chemical reactions - so, to me it sounds like the making of some sort of blueprint

This is close to a Chemical Engineer's Blueprint; it's called a "piping and instrumentation diagram/drawing (P&ID)" :


Offline Bublik

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Re: Chemistry vs. Chemical Engineering?
« Reply #11 on: October 29, 2012, 05:52:40 PM »
Wow. Thank you so much for sharing that, and I no longer have any questions.

Offline DrCMS

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Re: Chemistry vs. Chemical Engineering?
« Reply #12 on: October 29, 2012, 06:17:05 PM »
So far I've heard a lot of chemical engineers patting themselves on the back for how versatile they are and how limited chemists are. 

My opinion is the exact opposite in my experience chemical engineers think they are gods who are all brilliant chemists and expert engineers while in actual fact they know just enough about each to be a huge pain in the arse. 

I'd take a chemist and an engineer over a chemical engineer every time and I have yet to meet any chemist who has a good opinion of chemical engineers.  Personally in the last 20 years I've only met 2 chemical engineers I'd trust and maybe it's not coincidental they are both German with PhD's. The dozens of other chemical engineers from the UK and USA I've met have been awful truly awful.

I do agree that most chemist do not know enough about process design, reaction calorimetry and safety but the answer is training chemists in those things rather than asking a chemical engineer how to spend big bucks to screw up the process and plant.

Offline eazye1334

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Re: Chemistry vs. Chemical Engineering?
« Reply #13 on: October 30, 2012, 07:47:52 AM »
So far I've heard a lot of chemical engineers patting themselves on the back for how versatile they are and how limited chemists are. 

My opinion is the exact opposite in my experience chemical engineers think they are gods who are all brilliant chemists and expert engineers while in actual fact they know just enough about each to be a huge pain in the arse. 

I'd take a chemist and an engineer over a chemical engineer every time and I have yet to meet any chemist who has a good opinion of chemical engineers.  Personally in the last 20 years I've only met 2 chemical engineers I'd trust and maybe it's not coincidental they are both German with PhD's. The dozens of other chemical engineers from the UK and USA I've met have been awful truly awful.

So because you've had a bad experience means they're all rubbish?

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I do agree that most chemist do not know enough about process design, reaction calorimetry and safety but the answer is training chemists in those things rather than asking a chemical engineer how to spend big bucks to screw up the process and plant.

This is exactly the problem: minimizing the abilities of the other group. I've never made any remarks saying I can do a chemist's job. I can't and don't pretend that I can. But don't pretend that just by taking a process course that a chemist can suddenly do a ChemE's job. There's a reason the load for both is heavy: because it's hard.

And nobody said "limited", we said specialized. There is a difference, and it's not necessarily a bad thing. Chemists are needed for that as we do not have enough chemical training to take over design projects in most cases. I have a decent chemistry background, but I certainly don't know enough outside of the basics. And yes, chemical engineers are versatile, no matter how much you want to disagree. At every one of my jobs I've had to be a mechanic, mechanical engineer, electrical engineer, and computer engineer in addition to my chemical duties. That's what is expected of us. It's not an attempt to "pat ourselves on the back", it's just a simple truth about what we are asked to do.

Sorry, but I get a little angry when a chemist tries to discount the hard work I've put into my own career. We have different contributions to projects; I respect yours, you should respect mine.

Offline DrCMS

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Re: Chemistry vs. Chemical Engineering?
« Reply #14 on: October 30, 2012, 09:46:11 AM »
So far I've heard a lot of chemical engineers patting themselves on the back for how versatile they are and how limited chemists are. 

My opinion is the exact opposite in my experience chemical engineers think they are gods who are all brilliant chemists and expert engineers while in actual fact they know just enough about each to be a huge pain in the arse. 

I'd take a chemist and an engineer over a chemical engineer every time and I have yet to meet any chemist who has a good opinion of chemical engineers.  Personally in the last 20 years I've only met 2 chemical engineers I'd trust and maybe it's not coincidental they are both German with PhD's. The dozens of other chemical engineers from the UK and USA I've met have been awful truly awful.

So because you've had a bad experience means they're all rubbish?

When every single one of them I've dealt with (except the 2 German ones) have been rubbish and none of the chemists I've dealt with have a good word to say about any chemical engineers then yes they are.

I've had a more than a few customers ask how many chemical engineers we employ and when I give the answer none they have breathed a sigh of relief and then said "lucky you!".  The reason they ask is that when the projects get run past the chemical engineers in their companies the cost of implementation kills the project.  Thankfull that's good news for us because they bring it to us and we work out how to make the correct product without spending a fortune on new equipment.  The default option for chemical engineers given a potential new product to make is to design a new plant to do the job.  That's all well and good if the volume is high enough but for most new products you do not know how much you're going to be making to begin with.  Starting the project with a huge CAPEX bill is not a way to succeed so the project gets dropped.

I've never made any remarks saying I can do a chemist's job. I can't and don't pretend that I can.

Unfortunately most of the chemical engineers I've dealt with have thought exactly that but have made a very poor job of it. 

There is a school of thought, started and perpetuated by chemical engineers, that a chemical engineer is the best of both worlds but in my opinion they are the worst of both.

But don't pretend that just by taking a process course that a chemist can suddenly do a ChemE's job. There's a reason the load for both is heavy: because it's hard.

Designing new reactors/plants no I can not do that but getting the best out of the ones we have yes I can do that very well.


Sorry, but I get a little angry when a chemist tries to discount the hard work I've put into my own career. We have different contributions to projects; I respect yours, you should respect mine.

I get very angry when chemical engineers earn more than chemists but know less and contribute less and I'll respect chemical engineers only when they earn it.  The two German ones I mentioned I have a huge amount of respect for because they are very good at their jobs.  The others I've met I would not piss on if they were on fire and given their incompetence it would probably have been their own fault they were on fire.

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