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Ashish Batra and Geoff Genesky aligning the dynamic laser light scattering apparatus in Cohen's Lab.
What is Chemical Engineering?

Chemical engineers work with processes involving chemical changes. They design, develop, and operate chemical processes by which chemicals, petroleum products, plastics, pharmaceuticals, medical devices, microchips, foods, and consumer goods are produced economically and safely with minimal environmental impact. Chemical engineering processes also include services such as pollution abatement, environmental remediation, and chemical detection and analysis. These chemical processes range in capacity from thousands of tons a day to a few nanograms a minute. Chemical engineers study processes at scales ranging from the molecular level, such as biocompatible polymer implants for drug delivery and enzymatic production of human tissue plasminogen activator (tPA), to the global level, such as analyzing Earth's carbon cycle to address issues related to global warming.

The chemical engineering program prepares students for professional practice in traditional areas of chemical engineering - chemicals, polymers, petroleum, utilities, pharmaceuticals, biotechnology, and foods - as well as emerging areas of sustainable technology and nanochemical systems. Within these fields, chemical engineers work in research, process design, product development, economic analysis, marketing and sales, construction and contracting, management, and process operations. Because chemical engineers are educated broadly with an emphasis on chemistry and process analysis, chemical engineers are called upon to solve a wide variety of technical problems. The homepage for our freshman course, "Introduction to Chemical Engineering" has additional information on chemical engineering, such as careers and forefront applications - select the item "Chemical Engineering - History, Industry, Tools and Stuff."

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AICHE End of Year BBQ
Students at the CBE barbecue
The Chemical Engineering Community at Cornell

The typical graduating class has 60 members and is 35% women and 20% international students. Recent classes comprise students from every continent and most of the continental states, with the plurality from the Northeast/Mid Atlantic states. See photos of recent graduating classes.

The School's faculty conducts world-class research to advance the forefront of chemical engineering knowledge and delivers first-class instruction to prepare leaders in chemical engineering. The faculty is dedicated to the synergistic relationship between research and teaching; five textbooks in current use are authored by Cornell chemical engineering faculty.

Students interact with faculty through academic advising and courses - most faculty work with students during the problem-solving sessions (recitations) and all are available during office hours. Every chemical engineering student has a chemical engineering faculty member as their academic advisor. This relationship lasts until you graduate, and often far longer. The Director and Associate Director host weekly luncheons for undergraduates during the academic year. The AIChE chapter arranges lunches for individual faculty members and small groups of students, as well as semi-regular Friday afternoon gatherings of faculty and students at Collegetown apartments. Finally, the School hosts several social functions each year - a "welcome back" barbecue for the seniors in August, a holiday party in December, and a casino night in April. Of course, contact continues after graduation, at Homecoming, at Reunion weekend, at the School's annual reception at the National AIChE meeting, and through alumni recruiters. Chemical engineering students form a close-knit community; bonds are formed in your time in Olin Hall that will last a lifetime.

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The Chemical Engineering Curriculum at Cornell

The chemical and biomolecular program at Cornell is a challenging curriculum in a supportive environment. We encourage cooperative learning between our students - both informally in study groups and calculation sessions, and formally in homework and project teams. Facilities in Olin Hall (the School's home) support such interactions - classrooms with movable tables to facilitate teamwork, a dedicated student study lounge with seating for 75 (and comfy sofas), a common room with a kitchen, and a computer lab with 45 state-of-the-art PCs.

The chemical and biomolecular engineering curriculum evolves through four stages: The first stage is a foundation in chemistry, biology, physics and mathematics, which supports the second stage: the analytical "tools" of chemical engineering - fluid mechanics, chemical thermodynamics, and chemical kinetics. The units of chemical processes - such as chemical reactors, bio-reactors, distillation columns, and heat exchangers - are analyzed with these tools, beginning in the junior year. In the senior year, students design chemical processes - such as sustainable technology to produce fuel from corn - by integrating process units, while optimizing the economics and minimizing environmental impact.

A key principle of chemical engineering is that all chemical engineering processes may be analyzed with these three chemical engineering analytical tools, and all chemical engineering processes may be represented as integrated process units. Chemical engineering remains vibrant as new specialties emerge - such as polymer processing in the 60's, semiconductor processing in the 80's, biomolecular systems in the 90's, and recently microchemical/microfluidic systems - because each specialty may be derived from firm foundations in chemical engineering sciences and an understanding of unit operations.

While learning the syllabus topics, students also learn skills in teamwork, communication, professional ethics, time management, critical analysis, and creative problem solving. The faculty also strives to instill an appreciation for life-long learning.

Chemical engineering undergraduates have opportunities for individual projects in four areas, each mentored by a faculty member: research, co-op, student organizations, and teaching. The chemical engineering faculty has sponsored 75 undergraduate research projects each year for the past 5 years. In addition, recent undergraduates have conducted interdisciplinary research in chemistry, biology, food science, biological engineering, and materials science. A co-op internship provides first-hand experience of chemical and biomolecular engineering in a professional setting. Typically, one third of our undergraduates choose to complete a co-op internship. Student organizations are an excellent opportunity for management experience. In addition to the student chapter of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE), our undergraduates have held leadership positions in the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) and the Hispanic Society of Professional Engineers (HSPE). Each year about a dozen of our seniors serve as teaching assistants in our freshman and sophomore courses and receive training in presentation skills, team management, and curriculum development.

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