What You'll Do
Applying principles of chemistry, physics, mathematics, and mechanical and electrical engineering, chemical engineering professionals solve problems involving the manufacturing or use of chemicals and their byproducts. Simply put, they translate lab processes into practice on the manufacturing floor with the aim of maximizing productivity and minimizing costs.
In addition to designing equipment and processes for large-scale chemical manufacturing, chemical engineers plan and test manufacturing methods; analyze practices used to treat byproducts; and supervise production. How manufacturing processes impact the environment and worker and consumer safety are key concerns for the profession.
Beyond chemical manufacturing, chemical engineers work in a wide range of other manufacturing industries, including energy production, electronics, food, clothing and paper. Health care and biotechnology also present exciting opportunities for chemical engineering. Some chemical engineers specialize in a particular field, such as nanomaterials, while others might focus on developing specific products, from plastics to medicines to fuels.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), chemical engineers can anticipate employment growth in professional, scientific and technical services. In particular, energy research and development and the fields of biotechnology and nanotechnology will offer the best opportunities in the chemical engineering arena.
The Future of Chemical Engineering
The American Chemical Society (ACS) calls chemical engineering the "broadest branch of engineering," in that it draws on principles of math, physics and chemistry, compared to other engineering fields, which draw on only math and physics. Because of its breadth of scope, chemical engineering impacts the global economy and the environment in numerous ways.
Schools & Degree Programs
Colleges and universities across the U.S. offer bachelor's, master's and PhD programs in chemical engineering that allow students to focus their education on a particular industry or on more theoretical concepts as preparation for graduate work.
Along with classes in chemistry, physics, math and computers, chemical engineering degree programs typically include course work in engineering-related subjects, such as heat and mass transfer, thermodynamics, fluid dynamics, and process design and control. Undergraduate students can also anticipate fulfilling general education requirements in social sciences or humanities.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics' 2018-19 Occupational Outlook Handbook, the median national annual salary for chemical engineers is $98,340. Actual salaries may vary greatly based on specialization within the field, location, years of experience and a variety of other factors. National long-term projections of employment growth may not reflect local and/or short-term economic or job conditions, and do not guarantee actual job growth.