Students help design a device for capturing rare cells (Day 266)

Rare cell isolation from complex mixtures of cells – such as blood and bone marrow – are used in regenerative therapies and in the management of cancers.

cell mixtureTo improve the process of cell separation and isolation, a multi-disciplinary team of engineers from the University of Florida, US, have teamed up with a biotechnology cell and gene therapy company – Morphogenesis, Inc – to design an advanced, fully automated cell separation system.

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.

Continue reading Students help design a device for capturing rare cells (Day 266)

The accidental biochemical engineer (Day 260)

As you can guess from the title of this blog, this entry isn’t about me. Today’s guest blog is by a fellow panellist at last year’s Chemical Engineers and the Media event, Dr. Tarit Mukhopadhyay, a lecturer at the department of biochemical engineering at University College London (UCL).

So enough from me, I’ll let Tarit explain his route into the world of biochemical engineering.

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TaritName: Dr. Tarit Mukhopadhyay
Job: Lecturer
Course: MEng, biochemical engineering, University College London
Graduated: 2002
Employer: Department of Biochemical Engineering, UCL

 

I didQuote startn’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?

Continue reading The accidental biochemical engineer (Day 260)

Bulletproof batteries (Day 259)

Lithium batteriesLithium ion batteries are used as high density power sources for a range of devices from mobile phones (see my blog ‘The next generation of ultra-fast charging batteries‘) to electric vehicles.

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!

This safety issue obviously requires addressing, so researchers at the University of Michigan (U-M), US, have been working to develop an advanced type of barrier between the electrodes in a lithium-ion battery.

Continue reading Bulletproof batteries (Day 259)

How can we encourage more students to study chemical engineering? (Day 257)

I recently came across an article featured in the Guardian online, eight ways to encourage more students to study engineering, which proved to be a rather interesting read.

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.

Classroom scienceHowever, I have to commend the chemical engineering community for already having taken action to increase student numbers. For example, in the UK student numbers have been increasing year on year. In fact, over the last five years there has been a 97 per cent increase in the numbers of students starting a chemical engineering degree course – that’s nearly double!

But we still need to do more to bridge this skills gap.

Continue reading How can we encourage more students to study chemical engineering? (Day 257)

Using pedal power to charge phones (Day 256)

Charging batteriesNot being able to recharge your cell phone, and other small electronic devices, due to lack of access to power is a common problem the world over.

Part of a solution is being addressed by developing the next generation of ultra-fast charging batteries.

But what if you don’t have round the clock access to electricity or power such as those living in rural areas who experience long hours of power cuts every day?

As part of a project called “Engineering for the World’s Poorest” at Case Western Reserve University, US, chemical engineer professor Daniel Lacks and two of his students have developed a solution to this problem – a foot-powered cell phone charger.

Continue reading Using pedal power to charge phones (Day 256)

Chemical engineers on the toilet (Day 254)

ToiletThere 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.

Continue reading Chemical engineers on the toilet (Day 254)

Spreading the engineering message through immersive theatre (Day 252)

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.

New Atlantis theatre production. Image courtesy of LAStheatre
New Atlantis theatre production. Image courtesy of LAStheatre

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.

Continue reading Spreading the engineering message through immersive theatre (Day 252)

Chemical engineering research matters (Day 245)

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.

ChemEngDayUK 2015
ChemEngDayUK 2015

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.

In 2015, the third annual ChemEngDayUK conference will hosted by the chemical and biological engineering department at the University of Sheffield.

Continue reading Chemical engineering research matters (Day 245)

Gaming to teach about air pollution (Day 244)

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.

(L-R): Professor Roger Altizer and Kerry Kelly. Image courtesy of University of Utah College of Engineering
(L-R): Professor Roger Altizer and Kerry Kelly. Image courtesy of University of Utah College of Engineering

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.

Continue reading Gaming to teach about air pollution (Day 244)

How to best load a dishwasher, by a chemical engineer (Day 243)

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.

But there is more to loading a dishwasher than meets the eye as chemical engineers at the University of Birmingham, UK, in collaboration with industry, have conducted research on how best to load a dishwasher.

Dishwasher in between PEPT cameras. Image courtesy of Chemical Engineering Journal
Dishwasher in between PEPT cameras. Image courtesy of Chemical Engineering Journal

Dr. Raul Pérez-Mohedano, who led the project, published the group’s findings in the article, Positron Emission Particle Tracking (PEPT) for the analysis of water motion in domestic dishwasherfor Elsevier’s Chemical Engineering Journal.

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.

Continue reading How to best load a dishwasher, by a chemical engineer (Day 243)

Human waste could power a lunar space mission (Day 227)

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.

Moon and earthBut 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.

Continue reading Human waste could power a lunar space mission (Day 227)

A journey from process engineer to IChemE’s technical vice president (Day 206)

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…

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Ed Daniels (2)Name: Ed Daniels
Job: Executive Vice President, Commercial and New Business Development
Course: Chemical engineering, Imperial College London
Graduated: 1988
Employer: Royal Dutch Shell

Quote startBack when I started my degree at university, I knew, even back then that chemical engineering was, and would remain to be, a sound foundation of engineering education. Not only is it practical and logical, but it would also prove to serve me well in a career context. Continue reading A journey from process engineer to IChemE’s technical vice president (Day 206)

Chemical engineers and the media (Day 202)

(L-R): Yasmin Ali; Geoff Maitland; Andy Furlong; and Dr. Tarit Mukhopadhyay
(L-R): Yasmin Ali; Geoff Maitland; IChemE’s director of policy, Andy Furlong; and Dr. Tarit Mukhopadhyay at the Chemical Engineers and the Media event

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)

Ten common misconceptions about chemical engineers debunked (Day 199)

PerceptionWhen I started this blog my main aim was to showcase how chemical engineering is making a real difference across the world.

And I have been amazed at all the incredible tales of chemical engineering I have heard from so many different countries.

Building a detailed picture of chemical engineering is great, but one thing that concerns me are the common misconceptions about chemical engineers and chemical engineering I still hear.

To help dispel some of these I have put together a list of common misconceptions about chemical engineers that just aren’t true:

Continue reading Ten common misconceptions about chemical engineers debunked (Day 199)

Starting a chemical engineering career in academia (Day 190)

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.

Graduate destinations data from Higher Educations Statistics Agency
Graduate destinations data from Higher Educations Statistics Agency

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.

Continue reading Starting a chemical engineering career in academia (Day 190)

Planet Poker (Day 181)

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?

PokerEither 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.

Continue reading Planet Poker (Day 181)

A winning project – it’s the ‘white’ stuff (Day 179)

By now, I hope you are all aware that this blog has a single-minded purpose – to shine a light on chemical engineering and the profession by showcasing and sharing good news stories every day.

Recently, we celebrated all the great work chemical engineers are doing around the world at the IChemE Global Awards on 6 November 2014.

I blogged about the triumphant night, the winners and highly commended entries. But I didn’t get chance to share their innovations, projects and processes in much detail – apart from the overall winner.

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!

Huntsman Pigments
Huntsman Pigments – winners of the Chemical Engineering Project of the Year Award

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.

Continue reading A winning project – it’s the ‘white’ stuff (Day 179)

The next generation of ultra-fast charging batteries (Day 171)

Associate professor Chen holding the ultra-fast rechargeable batteries. Image courtesy of Nanyang Technological University
Associate professor Chen holding ultra-fast rechargeable batteries. Image courtesy of Nanyang Technological University

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.

Researchers at Nanyang Technological University (NTU Singapore) from the School of Materials Science and Engineering have tackled this problem by developing new fast-charging, next generation lithium-ion batteries.

Continue reading The next generation of ultra-fast charging batteries (Day 171)

A chemical engineer and the invention of the Post-it Note (Day 170)

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.

Post-it NotesAt 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.

Continue reading A chemical engineer and the invention of the Post-it Note (Day 170)

A day in the life of a chemical engineering graduate (Day 155)

Graduation hatsWith 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.

Continue reading A day in the life of a chemical engineering graduate (Day 155)

Five every day products and the chemical engineering that goes into them (Day 148)

toothpasteChemical engineering is often described as process engineering. But many chemical engineers work as product engineers within the fast moving consumer goods market.

The products that we buy and use every day, and often take for granted, have been chemically engineered so that they fulfil their required function.

And as you know, the best way to explain something is by way of example. That’s why I’ve compiled a list of products explaining the science and engineering that goes into them.

The products are also a great way to introduce young people to a potential career in chemical engineering .

Continue reading Five every day products and the chemical engineering that goes into them (Day 148)

Preventing blindness with a sleep mask (Day 140)

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.

Sleep Mask
PolyPhotonics’ Noctura 400 mask is shortlisted for an IChemE Global Award in 2014.

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.

Continue reading Preventing blindness with a sleep mask (Day 140)

Dispelling some nuclear myths (Day 138)

Solid radioactive waste
Solid radioactive waste

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.

Continue reading Dispelling some nuclear myths (Day 138)

A path to the stars (Day 134)

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:

Continue reading A path to the stars (Day 134)

Avoiding the dreaded ‘fatbergs’ (Day 110)

A FOG blocking a sewage pipe - Image courtesy of Severn Trent Water
A FOG blocking a sewage pipe – Image courtesy of Severn Trent Water

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.

Continue reading Avoiding the dreaded ‘fatbergs’ (Day 110)

Digital brain implants and Rubik’s cubes (Day 90)

man in computerWhen 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.

Chemical engineers from the University of Michigan, in collaboration with researchers at New York University, US, have developed a colloidal cluster arrangement of nanoparticles that could lead to a form of wet information storage.

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”.

Continue reading Digital brain implants and Rubik’s cubes (Day 90)

A new Golden Age for chemical engineering (Day 82)

Gas RigA 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.

Continue reading A new Golden Age for chemical engineering (Day 82)

It’s a sell out (Day 72)

C0145_13-slider-CEMThe first edition of IChemE’s technical strategy, Chemical Engineering Matters, was a sell out. There are no more copies left.

So I’m pleased to announce that a second edition has been published and you can find the new version of Chemical Engineering Matters here.

The simple statement that is ‘chemical engineering matters’ is not a cliché. It is the truth.

Continue reading It’s a sell out (Day 72)

Stars of the boardroom (Day 69)

CEO of Royal Dutch Shell, Ben van Beurden - Photograph: Reuters
CEO of Royal Dutch Shell, Ben van Beurden – Photograph: Reuters

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:

Continue reading Stars of the boardroom (Day 69)

Making cities sustainable (Day 61)

Bridge reflection across the River Clyde at nightWith the Commonwealth Games in full swing, and an estimated one million tickets sold for 250 medal events, Glasgow in the UK is the place to be this summer!

But with tens of thousands of expected visitors as well as the 4,500 athletes taking part, it is fair to assume that a lot of waste is going to be produced.

And then there’s the carbon emissions associated with spectator and participant travel to and from the games.

So, naturally, making these Commonwealth Games sustainable and environmentally friendly is an important part of the agenda.

Continue reading Making cities sustainable (Day 61)