Hello everyone. During the seasonal holidays, I am re-posting some of the most popular blogs from the past six months.
Here’s one of my early blogs that talked about how my own career was shaped by my childhood. It would be great to hear some of your stories about how you became interested in this great profession of ours.
I was born in Stoke-on-Trent in the 1940s where my father worked for Podmore and Sons, which made and processed raw materials like clays and glazes for the pottery industry.
My father’s connection to Podmore and Sons opened a door to some summer vacation work and it became my first exposure to both industrial chemistry and engineering. The rest is history.
Today, many people are undoubtedly attracted by the excellent pay, travel and simple job satisfaction from working in some of the fascinating and important industries which form the building blocks of the modern world.
I recently came across the Ipsos MORI 2014 Public Attitudes to Science study which focuses on public perceptions in the UK to science and engineering.
The survey did not test scientific knowledge but instead examined the social connections between people and science. This approach is useful as it offers an insight into how a person will respond to a specific issue, for example fracking.
Hello everyone. During the seasonal holidays, I am re-posting some of the most popular blogs from the past six months.
For such a demanding profession our skill-sets are diverse and require continuous professional development. In today’s blog – originally posted in September 2014 – I talk about some of the skills we use regularly, but are less well-known.
The media (and generally readers) love lists of things. Easily digestible and readable, they are a great way to start debate and communicate in a few words. A quick Google will show you just how many top ten lists there.
Anyway, throughout my presidency I thought I’d use this handy technique in my blogs to get your views and comments – beginning with ten reasons to become a chemical engineer. In no particular order, my top ten are:
Normally, ‘presidents’ cast their eye over their achievements for this mini milestone. But to break the tradition, I am going to look forward to speculate how careers in chemical engineering might evolve.
I find that newspapers often produce articles hypothesising about what possible careers we will be performing in the future. The majority of the time these future careers all involve an aspect of chemical engineering.
I know from working as a chemical engineer that we can be hard to identify as we are rarely called ‘chemical engineers’. We can be process engineers, safety engineers, bioproduct engineers, design engineers, environmental engineers… and some of us aren’t even called engineers!
Reading through the online literature I came across a variety of future professions and roles, some more fanciful than others, that I think will be well suited to the skills of tomorrow’s chemical engineers and some that are already being done by today’s chemical engineers.
Here are ten (possible!) future careers of chemical engineers:
Chemical engineers can be hard to identify, not just because most people aren’t clear about what chemical engineering actually is, but because chemical engineers rarely can be identified by the job title – chemical engineer!
To help dispel this confusion I have compiled a list of ten job titles that chemical engineers typically fill:
Hello everyone, if you’re lucky enough to be on holiday today enjoying the seasonal holidays, I hope you’ll spare a thought for those workers in the chemical and process industry working hard to provide the energy, food, water and medicines (especially those indigestion tablets!) we all need to make Christmas a special time of year.
It’s now tradition that IChemE makes a donation to charity rather than send Christmas cards.
Oh dear, it’s the year 2050 and Santa Claus can no longer cope with delivering presents to nine billion people.
And there’s worse – over prescribing of animal antibiotics means reindeer are no longer immune to the growing menace of ‘reindeer-itis’¹ – causing them to lose their magical power to fly around the world.
Santa needs an alternative energy supply urgently. Is there anyone who can save Christmas with an efficient, powerful, low carbon and renewable source of energy to power Santa’s sleigh on Christmas Eve?
Many people won’t look beyond jewelry and coinage for the most important usage of precious metals, but chemical engineers know that precious metals like gold, silver, platinum, palladium, rhodium, ruthenium, iridium and osmium have many more valuable uses.
Solar and other fuel cells, batteries, electronics, drugs, after shaves, bandages and even traditional photography have some reliance on precious metals.
Of particular interest to chemical engineers are their uses as chemical catalysts. But, being precious, chemical reactions that require large volumes of the metals are naturally going to be expensive and unsustainable.
One of the solutions is to use computational modeling below the nanoscale level to design more efficient and affordable catalysts from gold. And a transatlantic alliance of three universities have collaborated to achieve just that.
And they’ve had success with a non-surgical injection of programmable biomaterial that spontaneously assembles in vivo to activate a host’s immune cells into a 3D structure which can help fight and even contribute to the prevention of cancer and infectious diseases such as HIV.
For over 200 days now, I have been slowly fulfilling my presidential mission of sharing chemical engineering good news every day. And over time, I have noticed a pattern amongst my readership; chemical engineers are interested in the journey of where chemical engineering can take you.
By now, you must all know my personal journey inside out; starting in academia, then twenty years in the oilfield services industry working for Schlumberger until I came full circle back into academia in 2005 as professor of energy engineering at Imperial College London, UK.
For today’s blog post, I will let a previous IChemE technical vice president, Ed Daniels, walk you through his journey; a chemical engineer who rose through the ranks to a senior leadership role within a major oil company. Perhaps shining the spotlight on an individual will help shine a light on the profession in some small way…
Those of you who read my blog regularly will know that I have spent my career focusing on carbon capture and storage and I am always on the lookout for new ways to deal with climate change.
For a new method of carbon capture to be a success it has to be sustainable and economically viable, but if it can make a profit, it is even better!
When I came across this story of a company, Liquid Light, made up of chemical engineers, chemists, environmental engineers, physicists and mechanical engineers using carbon dioxide to make plastic bottles, face cream and wood glue, it made me think that this could be a real solution to our problem.
As we approach the year end, lots of chemical engineers around the world are picking up their accolades for a year of hard work.
I’ve selected two stories for today’s blog from Malaysia and New Zealand – countries with very active and enthusiastic IChemE members.
On 2 December in Miri, Malaysia, ten projects were showcased by final-year chemical engineering students of Curtin University, Sarawak Malaysia at their annual Design Project Award presentation ceremony.
Congratulations to Team ‘Innovazione’ who claimed the Best Design Project Award for its project: ‘Design of an offshore prelude floating liquefied natural gas (FLNG)’.
You may have noticed that there’s a lot of sport on TV. It’s big business and it underpins the marketing and commercial strategies of many broadcasters.
All of this money supports a growing and more sophisticated sporting industry with huge budgets and backroom teams.
In Formula 1, the Mercedes team employs… 700 staff to put just two cars on track at around 20 races each year. The McLaren Group, which includes McLaren Racing (the F1 team) employs 1,500 people and has revenues of nearly £300m (US$468).
In football, the England football team took more backroom staff than players to the Brazil 2014 World Cup including managers, technical coaches, fitness coaches, doctors, nutritionists, physiotherapist, sport scientists, chefs, video analysts, kit cleaners, performance analysis, and more.
Even a tennis player like Andy Murray is supported by his fiancée, friends, coaches, fitness trainers (2), a ‘hitting’ partner, physio and management team (Simon Fuller’s XIX Entertainment).
So what about the chemical engineers – where are they in this entourage of specialists?
Earlier this month, the IChemE London and South East member group hosted an event called, ‘Chemical Engineers and the Media‘, and I was fortunate enough to have been asked to sit on the panel to share my thoughts and experiences on the topic.
After the explosion of the Macondo well in April 2010, otherwise known as the Deepwater Horizon disaster, I was thrust into the media spotlight and ‘Into the lion’s den‘ as it were. So it was only natural that I retold my story at this event in more detail.
It was identified that there was a real need for a technical expert to provide an objective commentary and help explain what was happening after the disaster. I was given only ten minutes to decide whether or not I would be that person. And as you can probably guess, I said yes. Continue reading Chemical engineers and the media (Day 202)
A dark, damp, eerie cave with dripping water and furtive noises echoing through an underground chamber may seem an unusual source of inspiration for a bit of chemical engineering, but today’s blog illustrates that ideas can come from anywhere.
I’m sure you’re familiar with stalagmites and stalactites – those spiky, rocky formations that grow up from the ground and drop down from the roof of caves.
Geologists have known for a while how these form and have established mathematical models for their formation.
Interestingly, stalagmite formation is an issue in nuclear processing plants industry and researchers have used some of the knowledge from geologists to create a versatile model to predict how these stalagmite-like structures form.
The main point of the research is to is to reduce the number of potentially harmful manual inspections of nuclear waste containers.
A German company called Sunfire have recently demonstrated a process they call Power-to-Liquids (PtL). It’s a three-stage process that uses renewable electricity to convert water and CO2 to high-purity alternative energy fuels such as petrol, diesel and kerosene.
In some countries, chemical engineers don’t receive the respect they deserve.
Our contribution is hidden from the public as companies don’t want people to think about the ‘chemicals’ in their products.
I discussed the perception that anything natural is good and anything man-made is bad in my blog ‘Can you lead a chemical-free life?’, which demonstrates that this is not the case.
The US gets a lot of bad press about the public perceptions of science and engineering, but one thing they are getting right is the respect that seems to be increasing for chemical engineers working in the cosmetics industry.
The company has such a strong technological reputation that actress Jennifer Aniston (who I am told is famous for her hair?!) was not only was willing to advertise their products but also invested in the company as a co-owner.
Living Proof is now launching its first skin product – Neotensil – spearhead by another MIT chemical engineering alumnus Dr Betty Yu.
Neotensil uses polymer technology to compress and flatten eye bags.
International demand for fruit and vegetables is growing. We all want affordable fresh food available all-year-round, everywhere.
To ensure that your food arrives to you unspoiled and ready to eat food suppliers pick unripe fruit, transport it and then trigger the ripening process using ethylene.
The ethylene used to do this comes from the steam cracking of fossil fuels. With government aims to reduce the use of fossil fuels, fruit ripening needs to go green too!
Researchers, including engineers, biologists and physicists, from the University of Trento in Italy have developed an Escherichia coli strain which can produce ethylene to help ripen our fruit, removing the need for fossil fuels.
Back in 2006, a campaign was launched to plant one billion trees every year. In the first five years alone, over 12 billion were planted, and the campaign rolls on today.
The Billion Tree campaign is now managed by the United Nations Environment Agency and efforts like these have had an important role to offset the billions of trees cut down every year.
Of course, all this wood processing creates sawdust and there’s a long list of uses for this by-product including fuel briquettes, animal bedding, mushroom growing, soil amelioration, ‘smoking’ food, building products and more.
It’s always good to hear of research receiving a funding boost and in this case the well-deserved recipient is the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) in Germany, who are about to benefit from €2.85 million (£2.25 million).
The money will go towards the further development of ‘Fluoropore’ – a new class of highly fluorinated super-repellent polymers which makes both water and oil droplets roll off.
Most coatings by design are invisible, yet offer benefits that are very evident. Keeping shoes dry, protecting ships from ice build-up, the free flow of blood via medical devices, even simply frying an onion are made easier with the right coating.
It’s amazing to think that DuPont’s Teflon® coating has been around since 1938 and is still used widely in products such as in paints, fabrics, carpets, home furnishings, clothing and more.
Fluoropore appears to be equally flexible and universal with potential applications including keeping cars clean, preventing graffiti and keeping mud off clothing and footwear.
You’ll find lots of social commentary around the world about whether people have become more desensitized and less caring than the past.
In the UK, there was a social experiment, earlier this year, involving two children left on their own for 60 minutes in a busy shopping centre. According to reports, just one person stopped – over 600 were filmed walking by.
The issue of personal responsibility is important – how we interact, when we intervene and the choices we make. Sadly, for some of the big issues in the world I believe there is a tendency to leave the problem to someone else.
Climate change is one example. The drift in recent years has been away from the role of individuals to rely solely on organisations and governments for answers.
Often when we think about reducing food waste we focus on being more efficient and doing less with more.
But sometimes I think we forget that the packaging our food comes in has been specially designed to ensure that our food lasts as long as possible – once you take food out of the pack it drastically reduces its shelf-life.
Over 100 million tonnes of food are wasted annually in the European Union. And if nothing is done this is expected to rise to 126 million tonnes by 2020.
The wasting of food is not only an economic and ethical issue but it also depletes our natural resources. There are 805 million undernourished people in the world today, anything we can do to stop food being wasted will help reduce this inequality.
In January this year saw the conclusion of the IQ-FRESHLABEL research project set up to develop intelligent labels to help reduce our food waste.
I, like the rest of the world, have been saddened by the devastation caused by the most recent Ebola outbreak in Africa and its wide-reaching consequences.
Unfortunately, there have been many ‘finger-waving’ stories questioning how it can have taken so long for the major pharmaceutical companies to produce a viable treatment or vaccine for the disease.
Sadly, ‘finger-waving’ isn’t the answer when the solutions are complicated and highly regulated.
Sometimes, the media report on the latest breakthroughs. For example, Time recently reported ‘Scientists Develop Drug to Replace Antibiotics’.
This implies that these drugs are available and ready to go, however this distracts us from the fact the article also states ‘researchers hope to create a pill or an injectable version of it in the next five years’.
Anyone who has worked in research will understand how long it actually takes to move these breakthroughs to the next stage and to truly develop them.
IChemE technical vice-president, Jon-Paul Sherlock, has worked in the pharmaceuticals industry for over 15 years and has offered me a brief insight into what the industry is really like for chemical engineers.
Research is an important part of chemical engineering, and chemical engineers going on to further study and completing a PhD make up part of that picture. The importance of chemical engineering research in being at the forefront of tackling many of the world’s tough challenges is also emphasised in IChemE’s technical strategy, Chemical Engineering Matters.
In the UK, it is encouraging to see that more graduates are going on to further study within chemical engineering (see graph) than the other engineering disciplines.
So, what is is like to go into further study and start a career in academia nowadays?
I can certainly tell you what it was like back in the 1970s when I started, but I think that it’s probably for the best that I hand the reigns over to a chemical engineer completing their PhD in the present day for today’s guest blog.
As our population grows and the challenges facing humanity, and the planet, become more acute, who will be able to provide the answers?
Will it be politicians, accountants, teachers, lawyers, doctors, engineers or other professions we rely upon to make the world function efficiently?
The quick answer is that all professions will have a role, but, in my opinion, the solutions and catalysts for change will come from the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) community. I believe this will be the case whichever country you live in.
So what are the challenges – even before we get to issues like global health, ageing populations, food and water security, achieving low carbon economies, and much more?