There is always a good and lively debate about the definition of chemical engineering. Not in technical and academic terms, but in words that most people can understand and relate to. At the moment it often feels like a debate without end and probably needs marketers to help tease out the values, words, benefits and phrases that encapsulate our profession.
So does it matter if we can’t explain our profession simply and collectively, nor have a simple set of images that bind us all together? Romantically, most chemical engineers would answer yes to this question.
In practice too it is an awkward situation to be in – the lack of clarity and subsequent communication problems result in misunderstanding, poor awareness and, most importantly, less value attached to the profession. If nothing else this is a substantial barrier to higher education, skills and recruitment.
And here’s the most frustrating thing. A large proportion of the grand challenges facing humanity need chemical engineering to help lead and provide solutions. Most of these are in the public domain and receive lots of publicity. But how many of us put our hands up and publicise our role to ensure there’s enough food, energy, water, healthcare and so on?
In the UK at the moment there’s a nationwide challenge with a £10 million prize fund to help solve one of the greatest issues of our time. Called the Longitude Prize it has a strapline of ‘build tomorrow today’ and is asking people to vote for one of six challenges: Food, Water, Antibiotics, Paralysis, Flight and Dementia.
Some of these are natural territories for chemical engineers:
#food: The challenge is to invent the next big food innovation, helping to ensure a future where everyone has enough nutritious, affordable and environmentally sustainable food.
#antibiotics: The challenge is to create a cost-effective, accurate, rapid, and easy-to-use test for bacterial infections that will allow health professionals worldwide to administer the right antibiotics at the right time.
Even categories like #flight include a challenge of reducing carbon emissions with fuel an obvious example where chemical engineers can make a difference.
Voting will close at 19.10 BST on the 25th June, with the result announced live on BBC One (The One Show). I’m looking forward to the result and bearing in mind how many people are employed and involved in food, water and healthcare we might get a winner with a strong chemical engineering theme.
If you love your profession, please vote and make sure we exploit these fantastic media [and research] opportunities to explain and promote what we do and how we do it.
STOP PRESS: 19:30, 25 JUNE 2014 – ANTIBIOTICS WON THE LONGITUDE PRIZE 2014.