Right now, I am getting close to finishing up my third chemical engineering class at USC, called Introduction to Separation Processes. I really enjoy this class, because it is one of the first classes I have taken at USC where it takes theoretical concepts we have been learning in our other classes and applying them to industry and the real world. A lot of the time, it can get boring learning about theory and never actually seeing how that theory applies in the world of engineering. However, now in my undergraduate career, I am starting to take these chemical engineering classes that really start to apply the theory we have been learning to the world around us.
So far as a chemical engineering major, I have taken CHE 120 – Introduction to Chemical Engineering and CHE 330 – Chemical Engineering Thermodynamics. However, in both classes, we just learned about mass balances, energy balances, entropy balances, and other things of that nature all using equations and mathematical manipulation. The reason why these classes are so important is because it sets students up for the class I am taking now and classes beyond that. Everything builds upon each other, so even though some classes may be more theory-based, it is necessary to know the theory to be able to apply it to a real-life problem you may consider in another chemical engineering class.
In the class I am currently taking, theory from past classes is brought together and then applied to real phenomena. For example, a lot of the problems we look at in the class now have to do with analyzing distillation columns, and the problem is usually that we need to improve the purity of our component of interest. To do this, we need to be able to analyze the given system using concepts that we have learned in past classes. We then try to use that knowledge to specify how we would create or modify a distillation column to achieve a stream of your product with a certain level of purity. I am learning how I would actually make a distillation column from scratch, which I think is really cool, because it gets your mind out of the books.
One thing that I have enjoyed doing in this class are the MATLAB projects. For those of you who do not know, MATLAB refers to a computer program that functions primarily as a coding language designed to handle programs oriented towards complicated mathematical computations. In essence, it is like C++, except more user-friendly and focused around engineering applications. During the semester, we are assigned two MATLAB projects. The teacher will give out a very complicated problem, where the solution can be modeled in MATLAB. Therefore, in the project, we have to code a program that can solve for the solution by just inputting the initial conditions. These projects are usually fairly long and require a lot of time and patience. Here are some examples of code from the projects:
Overall, it is a very interesting class and makes me more interested to keep learning about how chemical engineering fits into the world around me. It was nice not having a class based 100% around theory.