One of my best friends from home likes to tease me about my major. When introducing myself, I normally say that I’m an engineer or a chemical engineer or that I do some chemistry and biology. Charlotte always makes me say my full 37 character major. People normally look a little confused about what Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering is.
So, what is Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering?
this is the first google hit (thanks - http://www.annualreviews.org/journal/chembioeng)
I’ll start with the definition from the Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering (ChemBE) website:
“ChemBEs are dedicated to the study and exploitation of chemical, biological, and physical processes and phenomena for chemical and biological applications.”
We were informed that ChemBEs are studying modern alchemy – we figure out how to transfer species A to species B and how to do it quickly, efficiently, and in a way that doesn’t spend too much money.
What classes does a ChemBE take?
Like all engineers, we take Calculus I-III, Differential Equations, Physics I-II, and Chemistry I-II with their accompanying labs. After that, we start to take many different classes to understand all the parts of a chemical reaction.
Process Analysis: This is an overview of the chemical engineering. You learn about the process of making A to B. However, you don’t know what any of the machines do (they are “black boxes” of sorts where something comes in and magically something else comes out). You learn how to find out how much product you can make.
The most important rule of this class is: what comes in must come out. My graduate student likes to joke that this rule explains life and all events, but I like to say that it explains fashion trends (*cough cough* Canadian Tuxedo).
A mass balance to calculate output streams compositions from my favorite ChemE youtube channel (http://www.youtube.com/user/LearnChemE?feature=watch)
These two classes help us understand the chemical basis of the species a chemical engineer works with:
Engineering Thermodynamics- This class is basically the introduction to thermodynamics. Thermodynamics is the study of energy transfer. In this class, you learn about the effects of these transfers. There is a lot of chemistry in this class and we spend a lot of time on the phase equilibrium. My teacher focused a lot on the everyday aspects of Thermo, so my two friends and I made ice cream to show some heat transfer :).
Applied Physical Chemistry- This is a combination of Thermo II and lots more chemistry. We covered a lot of different topics in this class. I really enjoyed the quantum mechanics and the biological applications of this class.
These two classes help us better understand how mass. momentum, and energy are transferred:
Transport Phenomena I: This class explains how mass, momentum, and energy are transferred in 2-D in different coordinate systems. If you’ve ever wanted to see how a fluid travels between two plates, this is definitely the class for you :).
Transport Phenomena II: This class explains them again and how much more complicated it gets in 3-D. So many integrals… but actually fascinating when applied to the lab. My professor’s research looks at how cells travel using a concentration gradient (or change in concentrations). If you would like to read more about it, here is a link.
These classes are combinations of the aforementioned classes (where you learn to apply all you know):
Modeling and statistical analysis of data for chemical and biomolecular engineers - This class is a mix between advanced statistics (try in 3-D) and programming. This class helps you prepare for imperfect data in lab that you’ll need to organize (because unfortunately, you probably won’t have perfect results) and how to create Matlab programs to make your life a whole lot easier. I made a program in this class that could crack and create ciphers and codes!
Chemical and Biological Separations – This class shows you how to separate different species based on their different chemical properties. This class is definitely more technical than previous classes, but it is interesting to see how chemical engineers approach problems in creating a real pure product.
Kinetic Processes- This class helps you understand how to control the speed and effectiveness of a reaction by changing the machine or the amount of machines. Kinetics and Separations help you finally understand what was going on in those black boxes that you ignored in Process Analysis.
Senior Product and Process Design: This class allows you to put everything together to make a product and a process (woo hoo!). For the product part, you develop a product and write a business plan and technical report describing the science behind it. For the process, you develop a design for a plant to convert A–>B. This year, we are developing a way to convert corn to ethanol. You get to make one of those complicated flow diagrams, but you actually understand what is going on! This class involves writing a lot of reports.
There are two more classes, but I haven’t taken them, so I’m not exactly sure of the exact curriculum:
Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering Lab- From ChemBE website, “Students are challenged with laboratory projects that are not well-defined and learn to develop an effective framework for approaching experimental work by identifying the important operating variables, deciding how best to obtain them, and using measured or calculated values of these operating variables to predict, carryout, analyze and improve upon experiments. Each student analyzes three biomolecular engineering projects and one of the projects in 540.311. In addition to technical objectives, this course stresses oral and written communication skills and the ability to work effectively in groups.”
Modelling Dynamics and Control for Chemical and Biological Systems- Again from the website, “n this class you will learn to model and control chemicaland biological processes. Previous ChemBE courses have usually focused on mathematical models of steady-state behavior; here, you will learn to model dynamics, that is, responses over time. In particular, you will model the transient response around a steady-state solution, and you will design appropriate control systems to maintain desired process behavior. In the chemical process industries, correct process control is essential for safety, environmental security, and economic optimality. In biological systems, complex control loops already exist to maintain homeostasis and enable interesting function. It is necessary to create models for these existing biological systems and then to identify appropriate means to judiciously interrupt the circuits to change the system’s behavior, for example by using a drug to combat a disease.”
So, why did I pick Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering?
When I first came to Hopkins as a junior high school student, I thought I was interested in Biomedical Engineering. I went to the information session and saw that it wasn’t for me. As much as I found the medical applications and the design team projects interesting, I was not really interested in the computer programming and electrical engineering parts that were emphasized during the presentation. Dazed and confused, I grabbed my first FFC cookie (and was hooked) and went to the Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering presentation. I wasn’t really sure what to expect, but I saw the student presenter wearing a Threadless tee. I knew I was in a good place.
- Nobody better mess with my ChemBE clique (http://www.np.edu.sg/lsct/courses/cbe/Pages/default.aspx)
The research they talked about was super interesting. I loved that there were lots of different fields that needed chemical engineers. I was most interested in the drug delivery and cancer research and the hard science focus, so I picked ChemBE.
Please let me know if you have any questions!