Chemical engineers work in the field of chemical engineering. They use knowledge about the properties and reaction of substances (chemical knowledge), plus other scientific knowledge, to solve practical, real-world problems. Here is an apt description of both the connection and distinction between chemistry as a science and chemical engineering as a field of industry:
All engineers employ mathematics, physics, and the engineering art to overcome technical problems in a safe and economical fashion. Yet, it is the chemical engineer alone that draws upon the vast and powerful science of chemistry to solve a wide range of problems. The strong technical and social ties that bind chemistry and chemical engineering are unique in the fields of science and technology. This marriage between chemists and chemical engineers has been beneficial to both sides and has rightfully brought the envy of the other engineering fields.
The breadth of scientific and technical knowledge inherent in the profession has caused some to describe the chemical engineer as the “universal engineer.” Yes, you are hearing me correctly; despite a title that suggests a profession composed of narrow specialists, chemical engineers are actually extremely versatile and able to handle a wide range of technical problems.
“What is a chemical engineer?”
History of Chemical Engineering
Learn how chemical engineering fits in context with other engineering professions by studying the site, Engineering: Go For It!
Working with a partner or as a class, answer the questions about the site that appear on your Chemical Engineers and the Things They Do student sheet.
Go to and read these three articles about chemical engineering inventions and their inventors. The articles are from the Inventors Archive:
- Dennis Weatherby: Automatic Dishwasher Detergent
- Madam C.J. Walker: Walker Hair Care System
- Art Fry and Spencer Silver: Post-it® Notes
Answer questions about the articles that appear on your student sheet. You will engage in a class discussion on the inventions and the scientists involved.
Prepare a poster of one significant invention that involved chemical engineering. Your poster should describe (1) the invention, (2) the invention process, (3) the inventor(s), and (4) how that invention has affected you and/or your community. To find a topic, search the Inventor Archive. Be sure to select an article about an invention that involved chemical engineering. Use information from that article and from any other useful sources to develop a poster explaining the invention to your classmates. Before starting your poster, get approval from your teacher on your topic and your sources.
Use the Poster Assignment and Rubric student sheet to guide you in developing your poster.
Try This at Home!
Greatest Engineering Achievements of the Twentieth Century provides timelines that you may want to explore. The timelines of four topics specifically involve feats of chemical engineering:
- Water supply and distribution
- Air conditioning and refrigeration
- Petroleum technologies
- High-performance materials
The American Society for Engineering Education answers questions about what it takes to get an engineering education.
This esheet is a part of the Chemical Engineers and the Things They Do lesson.