What does a chemical engineer do? - Engineering & Natural Sciences

What does a chemical engineer do?

Few careers touch as many aspects of daily life as chemical engineering.  

The battery in your laptop or cell phone. Your clothes. The paint on the walls around you. In fact, if you’re looking at something manufactured, chances are that a chemical engineer was involved at some point in the production process. 

When you earn a chemical engineering degree, you learn how to make and manage new products safely and economically. Many real-world chemical engineers help develop new materials, but even more often they’re responsible for scaling up the process needed to produce those materials. (Think of it as the difference between cooking dinner and cooking dinner for thousands. Whenever you increase the scale so greatly, all kinds of variables are introduced that the chef may not have considered. That’s what chemical engineers do: They make sure that products look as good in real life as in a prototype.) 

test tubes containing vivid green liquid and algaeBecause chemicals are used in so many applications, chemical engineers are employed in almost every industry imaginable. The petroleum industry has long been a major employer. And as oil and gas companies make commitments to go green, cutting emissions from their production process, they’ll rely on chemical engineers to drive those improvements. (At The University of Tulsa, chemical engineering professors have even managed to make 91-octane gasoline from algae.)  

Green energy is creating even more jobs in this exciting area. For instance, as more automobile manufacturers announce plans to go all-electric in 10 or 15 years, they need a lot of new chemical engineers who know how to manage battery production. Even legacy industries are using sustainable engineering practices to revamp their production processes, excising waste and reducing harmful byproducts. 

Fortunately, a chemical engineering degree is versatile enough to go into energy, environmental remediation, pharmaceuticals and more. It’s the Swiss army knife of engineering majors: It gives you a broad foundation in just about every engineering discipline. In fact, some people call chemical engineers “universal engineers.”  

At TU, chemical engineering courses will give you the skills to work in fields such as alternative energy, biotechnology, chemicals, environmental engineering, pharmaceuticals, materials, natural gas and petroleum.  

“The great thing about a chemical engineering degree is that it exposes you to so many different aspects of the field, and opens the door to so many opportunities,” said Ty Johannes, chair of TU’s Russell School of Chemical Engineering. “At TU, students don’t just see that in the classroom. They also have multiple opportunities to get in the lab and conduct research.” 

Connect with TU 

As a student at the Russell School of Chemical Engineering at TU, you can choose whether to pursue a general track — pursuing specialization in refining, materials, environmental engineering or business — or one with a pre-med focus.