Skip to main content


in this section

1. What is biomolecular engineering?

Biological systems are primarily chemical systems. Chemical engineers are taught how to link chemistry and engineering. Chemical engineers with knowledge of biology and biochemistry can best address those aspects of bioengineering that involve chemical change/chemical signals. With the rapid growth of our knowledge of molecular and cell biology, functional genomics and biochemical signaling, the potential role for chemical engineers in bioengineering is increasing rapidly.

NIH (National Institutes of Health) has recognized a special role for chemical engineers. In a 1992 meeting they defined a new term, "Biomolecular Engineering," as "Research at the interface of chemical engineering and biology with an emphasis at the molecular level."

Chemical engineers are taught formally to think across scales: from the molecular scale to the macroscopic scale, particularly in the presence of chemical change. No other discipline provides such emphasis on an integrated systems perspective across a wide range of scales. This unique educational component of chemical engineering provides chemical engineers a perspective that is well suited to attack problems of great interest in modern biology. The primary question in modern biology is how we relate genomic information to biological function. Chemical engineers have the best background to answer that question.

back to top

2. What is a chemical engineer?

Chemical engineers design, develop, and operate chemical processes by which chemicals, petroleum products, plastics, food, pharmaceuticals and consumer goods are produced economically and safely with minimal environmental impact.

3. What courses should I take to prepare for a degree in chemical engineering?

Take math and science courses, and all the advanced topics that your high school offers.

back to top

4. Who are some notable chemical engineers?
  • Linus Pauling (Nobel Prize - Chemistry Vitamin C)
  • John von Neumann (Mathematician and computer scientist)
  • Arthur D. Little (Founder consulting company)
  • Jack Welch (Former Chairman and CEO, General Electric)
  • Andrew Grove (CEO, Intel)
  • Frank Capra (Film director)
  • Vladimir Haensel (Inventor of Platinum Reforming Gasoline)
  • Bob Langer (Professor Biomedical MIT (NAS, NAE, IOM))
  • Frances Arnold (Professor Biotechnology California Inst. Technology)
  • Charles "Charley" Johnson (quarterback in the NFL until 1975)
  • Nancy M. Pimental (co-host/announcer on "Win Ben Stein's Money")
  • Bob Gore (inventor of Gore_Tex)
  • Roberto Goizueta (Former Chairman and CEO, Coca-Cola)
  • Charles (Garry) Betty (President and CEO, Earthlink)
  • Kevin Olmstead ("Who Wants to be a Millionaire?" world-record game show payoff winner 2001)
  • Bill Koch (Industrialist. Won 1992 America's Cup)
  • American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE) awardees
  • AIChE Board of Directors Awards
  • AIChE Committee Awards
  • Cornell University, Chemical Engineering Alumni

back to top

5. Once I'm admitted to the college when do I need to decide to major in chemical engineering?

During your third semester in the college you must apply for affiliation with a major.

The grade requirements for affiliation in chemical engineering are:

  • At most one grade below C- in chemistry, math, physics, and chemical engineering courses, and
  • a GPA ≥ 2.2 in math, science, and chemical engineering courses.

Please refer to ChemE Affiliation Criteria for course requirements.

6. Who can I contact about elective courses?

After you have affiliated with the major your chemical engineering advisor can recommend elective courses. You can also refer to our curriculum information sheet for the requirements.

back to top

7. How can I get a chemical engineering advisor?

When you affiliate if your current advisor isn't in the school you will be assigned to a chemical and biomolecular engineering faculty member. The advisor will be listed on your approved affiliation form. The advisor's contact information will be e-mailed to you in January or June of your sophomore year. Please refer to affiliation requirements for the major.

8. What are the degree requirements?

You are required to complete a minimum of 131 credits of courses detailed in our curriculum information sheet. List below is a summary of credits:

Credits Subject
16 Mathematics
8 Physics
4 Freshman Chemistry
4 Computing (CS 1112)
10 Engineering Distribution (EngrD 2190, Chem 3890*, and EngrI - Introduction to Engineering)
6 Approved Electives (includes Chem 2080)
12 Major Approved Electives (includes the Biology Requirement)
46 Major Program
24 Liberal Studies and Freshman Writing Seminars
131 Minimum Total Credits

*If another course is used as an engineering distribution, Chem 3890 must be taken as an approved elective. Note that Chem 3890 is 4 credits. If it is used as an engineering distribution, the extra credit can be used toward the Approved Electives requirements.

back to top

9. Can I pursue a minor?

Students in the chemical and biomolecular engineering major may pursue a minor in any of the 16 areas offered by the College of Engineering. The minors most pursued by our students are Biomedical Engineering and Applied Mathematics.

10. Can I study abroad?

Yes, but you may find it difficult to duplicate the chemical and biomolecular curriculum at your academic destination abroad. We have found a comparable program of study at University College Dublin (UCD) for junior year. If you are interested in attending UCD review Study Abroad for ChemE Undergraduates and the Cornell Abroad site for details.

Another option you might consider taking the required first semester junior Co-op courses during the summer after your sophomore year, then studying abroad during the following fall semester. Because you will have completed the fall semester ChemE courses during the Co-op summer, during your semester abroad you can complete electives.

back to top

11. What Co-op opportunities are there?

There is always a demand for chemical engineering Co-op students. Our students go to work for companies like Procter & Gamble, Mondelez International (formerly Kraft Foods), Merck, Infineum, Air Products & Chemicals, Corning, Johnson & Johnson, Momenta Pharmaceuticals, Xerox, Shire Pharmaceuticals, SABIC, GE Energy, Momentive Performance Materials, Sunoco, L'Oreal, GE Transportation, ExxonMobil, Symyx Technologies, and Primet Precision Materials.

During the Co-op experience you learn how to conduct and prepare for a job search. Graduating seniors report that conducting an actual job search, and going through the interviewing process were the most valuable aspects of the Co-op program.

You can earn a good salary while on Co-op. (Based on the most recently available data, the monthly average is $3,300)

You will gain a valuable experience in managing you money as you finance your housing, transportation, clothing, entertainment, and other living expenses. (Historically, the hiring company provides one round trip ticket from home to your work location.)

You will be exposed to corporate culture and politics. From this you will gain insight into the kind of work environment and/or organizational structure you may want to either work in or avoid after graduation.

You will have improved options after graduation. The Co-op experience will not only give you an advantage over students with no Co-op experience, but it will also be a plus should you choose to pursue graduate school instead.

You will gain more self-confidence as you interact daily with engineers and other professionals.

back to top

12. What do I have to do to fulfill the biology requirement?

There are seven options for completing the School's biology requirement:  

  1. Advanced Placement - a score of 5 on the CEEB AP exam or a score of  7 on the IB Higher Level exam,
  2. eight credits of a pre-med biology sequence - BioG 1500 and BioMG 1350 and BioG 1440, BioG 1107 and BioG 1108 and BioG 1500
  3. microbiology - BioMI 2900
  4. biochemistry - BioMG 3300 or BioMG 3330, or BioMG 3350 
  5. biochemistry - BioMG 3310 and BioMG 3320
  6. biomolecular engineering - ChemE 2880
  7. bioprocess engineering - ChemE 5430
13. What can I do as a chemical engineer?

Our curriculum prepares students for professional practice in areas of chemical and biomolecular engineering: chemicals, polymers, petroleum, utilities, pharmaceuticals, foods, biotechnology and electronic materials. Within these fields, chemical engineers work in research, process design, product development, marketing and sales, construction and contracting, management, and process operations. Because chemical engineers are educated broadly with an emphasis on chemistry not found in other engineering disciplines, they are called upon to solve a wide variety of technical problems.

back to top

14. How can I add or drop a course?

You can add a course on-line by using the Student Center during the first 3 weeks of the semester. If a course has restrictions such as permission of instructor required, you will need to complete an add/drop form. You can pick the form up at the Engineering Registrar's Office in 158 Olin Hall. Once you complete the form and obtain the necessary permission you must return it to the Engineering Registrar's Office for processing. You have 7 weeks to drop a course using the on-line system.

15. What grade option should I take?

It is important to note that this grade option (letter grade or S-U, satisfactory/unsatisfactory) may be restricted by College policy. Only a liberal studies distribution or an advisor-approved elective may be taken with an S-U option. And only one course per semester may be taken with an S-U option.

Students find that an S-U option in a liberal studies course removes the emphasis on a letter grade and decreases the anxiety of exploring broader topics, either in the choice of course or the choice of course material to emphasize within a course.

back to top

16. How can I apply for early admission or early decision in the MEng program?

If you have 8 or fewer (but greater than 0) undergraduate credits remaining for your last semester as a Cornell undergraduate student, you can apply for early admission into the Master of Engineering Degree Program. There are several advantages to participating in the early admit program and we encourage students who are interested to see Shelby Clark-Shevalier, Manager of Student Services, in 358 Olin Hall for application materials and the Early Admission Petition and Course Record Form.

For students who are not eligible for early admission, we offer an early decision program. The early decision program allows students to apply to the MEng program at any point in their senior year and receive a response as to admission status for the following fall term. Please contact Shelby Clark-Shevalier, Manager of Student Services, by e-mail <> for application materials and requirements.

17. Can I be charged prorated tuition in my last semester?

No. Although this was once allowed, this option is no longer available.

18. Can I transfer courses taken at another college?

You can transfer up to 18 credits from an accredited institution. Before you take the course you need to pick up a transfer credit form from the Engineering Registrar's office in 158 Olin Hall or use the form. You will need a copy of the course description or syllabus.

If you are taking a course to satisfy a mathematic, science, engineering major course, or first-year writing seminar requirement you must obtain approval from the department offering an equivalent course at Cornell. You are not required to get approval for liberal studies requirements.

Once the course is approved the form will be held until you complete the course. It is your responsibility to send an official transcript directly to the Engineering Registrar's office in 158 Olin Hall. You will not receive credit for a course with a grade of less than C unless a higher minimum grade is specified by the approving department.

back to top

19. What should I take for my liberal studies requirements?

You can always talk to your faculty advisor about your choices. We've included the liberal studies distribution requirements for the classes entering in Fall 2010. 

Global and diverse societies require that engineers have an awareness of historical patterns, an appreciation for different cultures, professional ethics, the ability to work in multi-faceted groups, and superior communications skills. Cornell has a rich curriculum in the humanities, arts, and social sciences, enabling every engineering student to obtain a true liberal education. A minimum of 6 courses (totaling at least 18 credits) is required, and they should be chosen with as much care and foresight as courses from technical areas.

The 6 courses must be chosen from at least 3 of the following 7 groups: 1. Cultural Analysis (CA), 2. Historical Analysis (HA), 3. Literature and the Arts (LA), 4. Knowledge, Cognition, and Moral Reasoning (KCM), 5. Social and Behavioral Analysis (SBA), 6. Foreign Languages (not literature courses) (FL), 7. Communications in Engineering-only one course may be chosen (CE).  

At least 2 of the courses must be at 2000-level or higher.

Refer to the Courses of Study and look for the abbreviated group noted after the course title for example (SBA-AS) to determine the approved liberal studies course grouping.  Engineering Advising provides a complete list of approved courses and those that are unacceptable on their web page: 

back to top

20. Can I apply for the dual degree program?

Students registered in the College of Engineering, the College of Arts and Sciences, or the College of Architecture, Art, and Planning may apply. Once your application is approved you will begin the dual-degree program in your second or third year. You need to contact the Engineering Advising office in 167 Olin Hall to apply as an engineering student. Ordinarily students need at least ten semesters to complete a dual-degree program.

21. How do I know if I'm in good standing?

To be in good standing in chemical engineering you need to maintain the following academic standard:

  • Cumulative GPA ≥ 2.2
  • Semester GPA ≥ 2.0
  • GPA ≥ 2.2 each semester in required chemical engineering courses
  • Accumulation of at most one grade below C- in required chemical engineering courses during the undergraduate program
  • No failing grades
22. Where can I get my class rank?

The School ranks each class by cumulative GPA and semester GPA. You may obtain your ChemE class rank from Carol Casler in 226 Olin Hall or e-mail from your Cornell assigned e-mail address.

back to top

23. What is my major GPA?

This is an ill-defined quantity occasionally requested by interviewers. You may interpret this as your average grade in ChemE courses. Or you may interpret this as your average grade in all courses required by the major, such as Chem 3890, Chem 3570, and the biology requirement. Or you may interpret this as your average in every course except liberal studies.

Choose a format and state your definition on your resume.

24. What awards or scholarships are available to students affiliated with the School?

Among the awards and scholarships are the ABB Lummus Global Essay Awards, the AIChE Othmer Award for Academic Excellence, the American Institute of Chemists Award, Merck Engineering and Technology Fellowship, the Procter and Gamble Technical Excellence Award, the Rodriguez Outstanding Student Award, the Scheele Outstanding Junior Award, and the 3M Fellowship.

These awards are described in the Engineering Student Handbook.

back to top

25. Do you have an honors program?

The School does not offer an honors program. When this issue was considered by the faculty, the School's position was summarized by one faculty member, "Every Cornell degree in chemical engineering is an honor."

26. How can I earn distinction?

There are two ways to earn distinction in the college. One is based on GPA and the other on your semester GPA for the last four semesters.

You will be awarded the following level of distinction with a cumulative grade point average of:

  • Cumulative GPA ≥ 3.50 - Cum laude
  • Cumulative GPA ≥ 3.75 - Magna cum laude
  • Cumulative GPA ≥ 4.0 - Summa cum laude

Another way to earn distinction is by earning a semester GPA ≥ 3.50 in each of the last four semesters of attendance at Cornell (including an Engineering Co-op summer term if applicable). You must take at least 12 letter-grade credits and have no failing, unsatisfactory, missing or incomplete grades in each semester.

All GPA calculations are minimums and are not rounded.

27. What are the requirements for deans list?

To receive a dean's list citation you need to achieve a semester GPA ≥ 3.50 (without rounding). You must take at least 12 letter-grade credits and have no failing, unsatisfactory, missing or incomplete grades in the semester.

back to top

28. I'm having trouble in a course. Is tutoring available?

It's important that you start early to search for the support you need. Getting help early in the semester can prevent struggles later.

The course professor is a good place to start. Make it a point to attend office hours and get to know your professors. It is best to go in with specific questions about course work, but it's also OK to go in with more general concerns.

Teaching Assistants (TAs), if your course has them, are often another good source of help and support. Don't be afraid to make use of their office hours or ask for an individual appointment.

The College of Engineering offers more resources.

29. Who can I contact about doing research?

It's best to contact faculty members in your department to learn about research opportunities. You can also contact the Engineering Learning Initiatives in 167 Olin Hall about the Alumni Undergraduate Research Program, or consult the resources provided by the College of Engineering. Undergraduates may also apply for funds through the National Science Foundation (NSF).

back to top

30. What is a 'Major Approved Elective' and how do I go about selecting it?

The Major Approved Elective is described in the School's Curriculum Information Document as follows:

"Major-approved electives are intended to build on the foundation of fundamentals taken in one’s first two years. Major-approved electives are usually advanced technical courses, at level 3000 and above although EngrD 2700, AEP 2640, CS 2800 and similar courses are appropriate. Major-approved electives can be taken only after you have affiliated with chemical and biomolecular engineering and have an advisor in chemical and biomolecular engineering. The Major-approved electives are technical or professionally oriented courses approved by your chemical and bimolecular engineering advisor."

back to top