Happy super bowl Sunday! I hope you are all enjoying the game and the great commercials!
This week we decided to write about what our majors mean to us, and how we describe what we do to others. Chemical engineering is for sure one of the harder ones to describe like this because it is so incredibly broad. Chemical engineering at USC offers 5 different programs: Nanotechnology, environmental, materials, petroleum, and biochemical, and you don’t even have to choose one of those emphases! Sometimes it gets overwhelming thinking about all the different options within chemical engineering, but it also means that the opportunities for what type of job you get are almost endless.
Basically what chemical engineers do is they design processes to take something from raw materials and turn it into a final product. In petroleum this is how to get crude oil out of the ground and separate it into the many different oil based products society requires. In the biomedical world, this means designing pharmaceuticals production. And the list goes on and on! I’m confident that even if my interests change over time, I’ll find an industry and a job that challenges and excites me!
Chemical engineers get to take a really wide variety of classes. Everyone takes the basics like thermodynamics, reactors design, separation processes, and fluid dynamics, and also a lot of chemistry classes. Then you have a lot of freedom to choose which classes best round out your experience. I’ve gotten to take some amazing classes like Nanomaterials Design and Synthesis(my favorite class which you can learn a lot more about here!), Biochemical Engineering, and Nanotechnology and Nanoengineering. These emphasis based classes let you explore the many different sides of chemical engineering and figure out where your niche might be within this vast field.
There is also a plethora of research going on in the chemical engineering department, and as a chemical engineer you aren’t limited to only chemical engineering labs. Especially in research work, I’ve found that the best teams are very multidisciplinary and incorporate many people’s knowledge. I’ve had the opportunity to work in two really cool labs in my time here. The first was a nanomaterials and nanodevices lab, where I synthesized quantum dots and analyzed how their properties changed under different conditions. This was a combination of chemistry and chemical engineering, as well as biomedical, electrical, and materials engineering. My new lab is a nanotechnology materials lab in the mechanical engineering department, which looks at how nanomaterials behave under stress differently than regular materials. There are a ton of other great opportunities to get involved with research within this department as well in any of the above areas.
Chemical engineering is a really exciting field because there are just so many opportunities and different paths you can take. It allows you to get a great background in a lot of technical areas, and be able to apply them to a multitude of fields. This certainly makes the job hunt overwhelming but also very exciting. I’m so glad I chose chemical engineering, even though it’s a little different than I thought it would be. It’s not just being good at chemistry and math, it’s about how to apply chemistry and math to solve real problems and maximize any process.