Both the faculty members and senior engineering students involved come from a variety of disciplines (mechanical, electrical, biomedical and chemical) and are collaborating with the Tampa based biotechnology company to build a fully functioning prototype of a completed device over the next few months.
I didn’t originally plan on becoming a biochemical engineer. The main bulk of my applications through UCAS were to study medicine – my dad was a GP and perhaps it was an expected route for me to take.
But one of my applications was to study biochemical engineering and to be honest, at that time, I didn’t really know what it was. I chose biochemical over chemical engineering because I was more interested in the pharmaceutical aspect of the discipline.
At my UCAS interview, I felt as if I was being recruited. I don’t recall being asked a lot of questions, but instead being drawn into a world of ‘what if’. What if experimental procedures such as gene therapy or biofuels were successful? And how could I, as a biochemical engineer, be part of the solution?
But the use of lithium batteries hasn’t been without some issues. For example, in 2013 Boeing was forced to ground its entire 787 Dreamliner fleet after problems were detected with the lithium ion batteries in the plane’s electrical system. The batteries reportedly burst into flames under some conditions – not a good state of affairs at 43,000 feet!
The article outlines potential solutions to the engineering skills shortage faced in the UK and the rest of the world. And I have to say that I agree with their suggestions – put together by academic and policy experts.
There was a great news story in January about Bill Gates drinking a cup of clean water that, five minutes earlier, had been raw sewage.
It was a fantastic PR stunt that drew attention to how engineers can change the world in all sorts of ways.
It was also a good illustration of how trust is important to get our engineering ideas off the ground.
The ‘Omni Processor’, which processes the sewage into drinking water, was created by Janicki Bioenergy; a company which received funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
This project reminded me of a similar but separate Gates Foundation initiative called the ‘Reinvent the Toilet Challenge.’ This initiative sought to develop a waterless, hygienic toilet that doesn’t have to be connected to a sewer.
Climate change and water scarcity are issues that we all need to keep talking about. But I recognise that perhaps we need to talk about them in more interesting ways than just lecturing.
You could say that the reality of climate change and water scarcity hasn’t hit home with the general public because the effects aren’t immediate and felt on their doorstep. The data, facts and figures are there but the urgency of action isn’t.
As a chemical engineer, I can talk about the issues, I can lecture, I can discuss at length with my peers and even the media, but it is easy for my voice and others to get drowned out.
One interesting way to engage the public about such issues is through immersive theatre.
You might think that engineering and theatre couldn’t be further apart, but a theatre production called New Atlantis by LAStheatre, held in London, UK, has provided an entertaining way to bring key messages and solutions of the future to a willing audience.
As an academic, I know that chemical engineering matters in the research space. And IChemE recognises the importance of forums and meetings where chemical engineering researchers can share their work with their peers.
One such important UK research meeting for chemical engineers is the annual ChemEngDayUK conference.
This event brings together researchers, engineers and scientists from chemical engineering departments across the UK to showcase their latest technological advances and research to leading experts within the field.
There is also specific emphasis placed on collaboration between academia and industry.
Air quality is something that teenagers and school children probably spend little time thinking about. In the area of Wasatch Front, Utah, US, this issue is particularly important due to weather inversion.
Weather or temperature inversions occur when there is an increase in temperature with height. This means that an inversion can trap pollutants below it causing higher pollution levels.
Educating young children about air quality and how the decisions we make as an individual and as a society affect pollution can be a challenge, so a chemical engineering research associate at the University of Utah, Kerry Kelly, came up with a video game idea to do just that.
Kelly wanted school students to start thinking critically about air quality, so working with Roger Altizer, a professor at the University of Utah’s Entertainment Arts and Engineering video game program, the web-based game “Bad Air Day: Play It Like UCAIR” was created.
Loading a dishwasher is one of those daily household chores that usually doesn’t involve too much thought; you pack the dishwasher with dirty crockery, remember to use detergent and then press the on button.
The technique of Positron Emission Particle Tracking, developed at the University of Birmingham, was used to track and analyse the flow of water in the dishwasher through non-invasive 3D spatial detection of radioactively labelled particles i.e. tracers.
You may remember that I made a few suggestions in my festive blog, ‘Can chemical engineers save Santa?’. One of my suggestions was to process the reindeer’s poo in order to produce biogas for fuel to help Santa travel around the globe to deliver presents.
But processing waste to biogas for fuel may not be limited to just our planet. Researchers at the University of Florida have been working towards the design of an anaerobic digester that can be used on the moon to power a rocket – this rocket would return astronauts back to earth.
NASA is planning to construct a lunar station over a period of five years between 2019 and 2024 with four crew members. So Pratap C. Pullammandappallil, associate professor of agricultural and biological engineering at the University of Florida and author of the study, has conducted research into optimising technologies for waste digestion.
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…
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)
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.
If you had to sit down in front of the three biggest emitters of greenhouse gases in the world – China (29 per cent), USA (15 per cent), and the European Union (10 per cent) – and persuade them to scale back their use of fossil fuels what would you say?
Would you take the emotive approach and appeal to their sense of humanity by highlighting the risks they are storing up for our children and grandchildren in the future?
Or would you lead with the science articulated so determinedly by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published in its Synthesis Report at the start of this month?
Either way, it does seem that nations – and even within nations – the world’s biggest game of poker is underway.
Our leaders are literally gambling with our planet, and the odds are getting worse if you agree with the IPCC.
This game of cards moved on recently when China and the US unveiled new pledges on greenhouse gas emissions.
US President Barack Obama said the move was “historic”, as he set a new goal of reducing US levels between 26 per cent-28 per cent by 2025, compared with 2005 levels.
China did not set a specific target, but said emissions would peak by 2030.
I did, however, blog about one of the short-listed entries, preventing blindness with a sleep mask, before the event and I’m happy to report that they won the Innovative Product of the Year Award on the night – so congratulations to Polyphotonix!
Another winner on the night was by Huntsman Pigments, based at their Greatham site in Hartlepool, UK, for their innovative project which improves titanium dioxide efficiency in the manufacture of titanium dioxide pigments.
They bagged the Chemical Engineering Project of the Year Award sponsored by Sellafield Ltd.
Most of us, at some point in our lives, have been in the situation where our phone batteries have run out of power at the most inconvenient time. And waiting for it to recharge takes longer than expected; it can be one of the most frustrating things in modern day life.
Our stationary supplies would not be the same without the Post-it note. Imagine if we couldn’t bookmark our pages as easily, or write reminders to ourselves and co-workers – life would be less organised, and perhaps less colourful.
Post-it notes are available nowadays in a range of sizes, colours, and even fragrances with sales of the product estimated to be US$ 1 billion per year.
At IChemE, we even use jigsaw shaped Post-it notes as a method of engaging with our members through our technical strategy, Chemical Engineering Matters. I even flew to the other side of the world to attend the Chemeca 2014 conference in Perth, Australia, with a supply of Post-it notes safely packed in my luggage.
The company that invented Post-it notes was 3M, and in fact, it was a chemical engineer called Arthur Fry who thought up the genius idea of the sticky notes we know and love.
It took over a decade for Post-it notes to be released to the market from its inception. The invention of the Post-it started in the 1968 when Spencer Silver, a senior chemist at 3M, was conducting experiments in order to develop a strong acrylate copolymer-based adhesive for the aerospace industry.
With the autumn semester of the academic year well under way in the UK, final year chemical engineering students will be starting to think about their next step – applying for a graduate job.
Stepping into the world of work from university can be scary because it’s unknown, unfamiliar and it comes with responsibility. But it’s the start of an exciting chapter, full of opportunities and meeting new people.
So it would be great for students to know a little more about what it’s like to start a chemical engineering graduate job and what the journey was like to get there.
As IChemE president, I get to interact and talk to chemical engineers, all at different stages of their careers. With applications to study chemical engineering increasing year by year, I thought it would be great to blog about what it’s like to be a graduate just starting out.
The individual in question is a graduate safety engineer working for an engineering consultancy and has been in post for about two months – so I will pass the reigns over to them and let them explain, via this mystery guest blog, what it’s like to be a chemical engineering graduate.
The number of people who are diagnosed with diabetes around the world is approaching 400 million.
In the UK, there are 3.2 million people diagnosed with the condition and an estimated 630,000 people have it, but don’t know it. The cost of diabetes to the NHS is estimated to be about £10 billion a year overall, with £7.7 billion related to health complications and £2.1 billion spent on treatments.
This is a huge amount of money, and with the World Health Organisation (WHO) predicting a 55 per cent increase by 2035 in people living with diabetes worldwide, the cost is only going to increase and put a strain on the already limited resources.
PolyPhotonix, a bio-photonic and OLED (organic light-emitting diode) research company headed up by Richard Kirk, has developed an innovative product that can save the NHS up to £1 billion a year by preventing and treating diabetes retinopathy and age related macular degeneration.
Whenever I talk to chemical engineers, whether members of IChemE or otherwise, within the nuclear industry, there can be no doubt that one of the main issues affecting their work is public perception and understanding.
People do tend to recoil when something is described as radioactive or nuclear, and in part, this is due to images from World War II, and subsequent portrayal in the media.
On Day 100 of my presidency, I mused about possible future careers of chemical engineers. It won’t come as a surprise to learn that engineering in space – whether as a space fuel processor or galactic engineer – featured in my top ten list.
But you’ll be pleased to know that chemical engineers have already been travelling into space for decades.
When you ask a small child what they want to be when they grow up, more often than not, you will hear them say: “I want to be an astronaut and go into space”. And yet, little is known about how you become an astronaut and career paths that can lead to space travel.
One such path that can lead to the stars is chemical engineering.
As they say, the proof is in the pudding, so I’ve compiled a list of individuals who started their career in chemical engineering, and then went on to become astronauts:
Fatbergs recently received some news coverage in the UK, with a giant fatberg – 80 metres in length – being found in a west London sewer by Thames Water. So, to put that in perspective, 80 metres is the length of a commercial plane.
For those of you who don’t know exactly what a fatberg is, it is the term given to the solidified lump of fat that can cause blockages in sewer systems.
The problem stems from people pouring hot cooking oil down the sink, and when the oil hits the cold temperature of the sewers, it solidifies to fat. Wet wipes, food, cotton buds and litter can easily cling to this fat and form congealed masses or fatbergs.
Another phrase used in the water industry, for example at Severn Trent Water, to describe these unpleasant wastewater blockers are ‘FOGs’ – fats, oil and grease.
When you think of data storage, I think it would be safe to assume that water is not the first thing that comes to mind. Rather it is hardware and electronic components that we associate with storing our information, such as saving documents on a USB pen drive or computer hard-drives.
The team, led by Sharon Glotzer, the Stuart W. Churchill Professor of Chemical Engineering at the University of Michigan, have discovered a new method for storing data in microscopic particles suspended in a solution, also referred to as “wet computing”.
A Golden Age is a concept that implies a period of great advancement and outstanding achievement for a civilisation or topic. This concept can be applied to chemical engineering.
Although chemical engineering is a relatively new profession, it could be said that it has already gone through two such periods of change and has now entered a third Golden Age of practice, thought and impact. With many great opportunities and challenges that accompany it.
Chemical engineering attracts some of the best talent from around the world. And that talent has the proven ability to reach the top of their profession and head some of the largest and most profitable companies in the world.
Researching CEO’s and Chairs of major companies proved to be a very interesting endeavour. There are more chemical engineers, or individuals trained as chemical engineers, at the top of their game than you would think.
And they are the ones who are making the decisions that cascade down and affect our daily lives. So, here is a list I’ve put together of chemical engineers in high places and proof that studying chemical engineering can be the gateway to a high profile and influential career: