Dear Aspirants: Demystifying Chemical Engineering

In India, one of the first professions that comes into mind when one speaks of jobs is Engineering. Engineering is highly dynamic and is actively involved in using technical means to solve the challenges faced in various aspects of life. A considerable chunk of the credit goes to how diversely it is categorised into various branches. Most of us would know branches like Computer Science, Electrical, Civil, Mechanical. What about the others? They still remain ‘just some obscure branches’ that only the elite colleges of the country provide. Here, I wish to briefly discuss a few aspects of Chemical Engineering, in order to de-mystify it.

As unintuitive as it might seem, Chemical Engineering is not something like the ‘Engineering’ version of the Chemistry we learnt at schools. Chemical Engineering is not about Chemistry. It studies various physical and chemical processes at a large scale, and applies various techniques including Physics and Math to make the process better/more feasible/more economical.

In a sense, it is better called ‘process engineering’.

From the making of a pen to manufacturing petroleum on a large scale, the details of any process have to ‘go through’ Chemical Engineering. Using concepts like energy and mass balances, thermodynamics, fluid mechanics, system control, process design etc., Chemical Engineering analyses the A to Z of a process and does its work. This means each step of a process is scrutinised thoroughly, and after working out the details, chemical engineering looks at ways to modify/improve the steps so that the overall process becomes better. It is also bothered about making the process environmental friendly, whilst simultaneously economical, and capable of giving maximum output (as well as profits if you want!). The reason we call it Chemical Engineering is that the subjects of study are mainly chemical processes. This, however does not limit it to the field of industrial chemistry.

Academically speaking, the principles of Chemical Engineering are compatible with a diverse set of fields. It has applications in the petroleum industry, chemicals manufacturing, food industry, drug design, environmental engineering, process control, the up-and-evolving fields of biotechnology and nanotechnology, and lots more! This makes it one of the most diverse fields of study.

In India, some of the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) happen to offer this course at the undergraduate level. Many believe the best in their set include IIT Bombay and IIT Madras. Overall, the departments in both these IITs are well praised for their efforts. Aspirants who ‘get’ this branch in a good IIT and can’t do anything about it should not be disappointed at all. After all, the courses are interesting too, in the way things are applied in them. Thus, if one attempts to, one can start liking the field a lot. For the hardcore enthusiast, it is another experience!

(Fun fact: Chemical Engineering is among the most-paid engineering jobs in the US, comparable to Computer Engineering!)

When I was in the position to select the branch I would be taking, I opted chemical engineering under top priority. This was because, out of all the options I had, related to my JEE rank, it felt more suited to my interests. I was also fascinated by its reach and its relationship with various other branches, all of which I also liked. It was perfect for an indecisive person like me – a branch which would cater to most of my interests!

I hope I managed to give you a little flavour of how things are in Chemical Engineering. You might even research about it online to get to know more. I would definitely say that it is an interesting course. And it is always open for students who opt it out of interest. Similarly, it is important to choose what field you like most, rather than just the top-labelled branches that your JEE (Joint Entrance Examination) rank can provide you with.