ChemEngDay UK, the UK’s annual chemical engineering conference for the research community, came to a successful close last week. Hosted this year by the University of Bath, it welcomed over 250 delegates to Bath from across the UK and beyond.
ChemEngDay UK was begun to facilitate networking between chemical engineers across UK universities. Attended predominantly by PhD students, post-doctoral researchers and academics, together with delegates from industry, it is the only chemical engineering conference in the UK for the academic community.
So to kick-start our new ChemEng blog, the blog elves thought it only appropriate to welcome back blog-elf-in-chief and ChemEng365 blogger, Geoff Maitland, to pick his top five blogs from the past year.
Name: Geoff Maitland Job: Professor of Energy Engineering Course: Chemistry, University of Oxford, UK Graduated: 1969 Employer: Imperial College London, UK
Last month saw my last ever ChemEng365 blog posted online. It was both a sad and happy day for me. Sad that my time as IChemE president and blogger was over, but happy that we have managed to achieve so much and reach so many people in just 365 days.
Now that my blogging days as IChemE President are over, I’d like to say a heart felt thank you and goodbye to all my ChemEng365 readers and followers. So I’ve recorded a farewell message for you to watch:
Thank you for shining a light on chemical engineering with me. Goodbye!
Well here we are. It’s the final day of the ChemEng365 blog and last night I handed over the chains of office to my successor, Dr Andrew Jamieson.
Aided and abetted by my team of loyal ‘blog elves’, it’s been quite a journey. But I hope you’ll agree with me that we’ve made a pretty good fist of my original ambition, which was to shine a light on chemical engineering on every single day of my presidency.
It’s been great fun and I trust that you have been impressed at the seemingly endless supply of chemical engineering good news that has been aired via my blog over the last twelve months.
The stories will remain here to provide an enduring resource for anyone who wants to find out more about what chemical engineers get up to. So when you come across someone who ought to know more about the profession, send them here!
The search box at the top of the page is a doorway to the richness and diversity of chemical engineering.
However, it is also important to note that chemistry and chemical engineering are interdependent and must work together. I have made it part of my focus as president of IChemE to build further on our strong relationship with the Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC).
I am proud to have started out my career studying chemistry at the University of Oxford, UK, however, I am also now proud to be a chemical engineer and to have spent my presidential year promoting the fact that chemical engineering matters.
But let’s not forget that chemistry matters too.
So I’m going to use today’s blog to highlight two world-changing collaborations between chemists and chemical engineers, which illustrate the importance of the relationship really is.
Today is Day 363 and the end of my time in the blogosphere is getting closer. I have just three days left to shine a light on chemical engineering.
And since three is the magic number, according to the music of Schoolhouse Rock and De La Soul, I think it’s fitting to focus on three topics that underpin an excellent chemical engineering education. A sound knowledge of these topics, coupled with an ability to apply them in a practical setting, is a key part of the learning outcomes from an IChemE accredited degree course of which there are over 200 on offer in 60 university departments in 13 countries.
It’s fair to say that without a fundamental grounding in core chemical engineering principles, none of the achievements that I have described over the last twelve months would have been possible. And whilst this is not an exhaustive list, I’ve attempted to distil the richness of our profession into just three topics – topics that no chemical engineer can live without.
I’d be interested to hear if you agree with my three choices and, because there is no right or wrong answer in a debate like this, readers should feel free to disagree – and comment on the blog.
Without further ado, here are my top three topics:
Thermodynamicsis the branch of physics concerned with heat and temperature and their relation to energy and work. It defines macroscopic variables, such as internal energy, entropy and pressure, that partly describe a body of matter or radiation.
It’s a rite of passage for first year chemical engineering undergraduates to get to grips with the laws of thermodynamics – and seemingly endless hours spent looking at steam tables!
Thermodynamics is an essential part of chemical engineering. We need to understand how energy is transferred within a system and to its surroundings. Without it, we wouldn’t be able to analyse or design a chemical process. One the first stages of designing a process from concept phase is performing a material and energy balance. It’s a tough topic, but we’d be sunk without it.
Day 362, four blogs to go. Four more opportunities to highlight chemical engineering in action.
In the Christian tradition, the four horsemen of the apocalypse are the harbingers of the end of the world.
Other faiths offer different views, but for the purposes of this blog post I’m taking a look at four big challenges that present a serious threat to life on earth: water scarcity; increasing energy demand; food security; and climate change. What are chemical engineers doing to tackle these issues and avert the apocalypse?
I have previously observed that we run the risk of sleep-walking towards climate catastrophe. But it’s more complicated than that. The water, energy, food and climate change challenges are interrelated.The former Chief Scientific Adviser to the UK Government, Sir John Beddington, used the term Perfect Storm to describe this phenomenon arguing that climate change will intensify pressure on resources further, adding to the vulnerability of both ecosystems and people.
Chemical engineering can provide shelter from John’s ‘Perfect storm’. Here are some examples.
During my year as novice blogger, I’ve been made aware of many excellent projects involving outreach that raise the profile of our profession to the public, and in particular, to school children.
This blog post highlights five initiatives that will inspire a new generation of chemical engineers, as well as promoting the value of engineering to a wider audience:
1. Pint of Science
The Pint of Science festival is an annual event, held over three days, that takes place in pubs across the world. During the festival, researchers and experts in their field discuss their latest scientific work over a drink. Pint of Science has grown year on year since its inception in 2012 by two research scientists, Michael Motskin and Praveen Paul, at Imperial College London, UK.
This year I was invited to take part – and in return I was promised a free pint! Well how could I refuse? I’m a big fan of science communication and public engagement – the free pint had nothing to do with it!
Prior to starting this blog I had already attracted a reputation as a keen advocate for the positive benefits of chemical engineering; perhaps as a result of my media appearances following the Deepwater Horizon incident in 2010. My interventions were driven by a desire to react positively to what was clearly very bad news.
I wanted to use my presidency to do something more proactive. I wanted to find a way of shining a light on some chemical engineering good news on a daily basis, but I wasn’t entirely sure how to go about it – until I was told, “Get blogging Geoff!”
Once I’d figured out what blogging entailed, the idea started to take shape. A pipeline of stories was developed and ChemEng365 was born.
360 days later, I have been amazed at the extent of the readership that the blog has attracted. Here are some numbers for you:
The blog has been viewed more than 250,000 times by over 75,000 people in 180 countries. The top five countries, in terms of readership, will not come as a surprise: UK; US; India; Malaysia; and Australia. This is broadly in line with IChemE’s membership and the extent of chemical engineering activity around the world.
The list of countries where I have gathered just a single follower is far more exotic; the blog has been read in Aruba, Curacao, the Faeroe Islands and New Caledonia to name just a few of the far flung territories that have popped up in the analytics.
ChemEng365 has a following in six continents: Asia, Africa, North America, South America, Europe and Australasia. But there are seven continents in total – Antarctica is missing?
This begs the question: ‘Why don’t penguins read my blog?‘ Maybe it’s because their flippers are too big for a computer keyboard! Or maybe it’s because I haven’t blogged about Antarctica just yet.
Here are my favourite blog stories from six continents:
Today is Day 359, and there are just seven days left to shine a light on chemical engineering. So I thought I would try something a little different by highlighting seven Harry Potter ‘spells’ that are all in a day’s work for chemical engineers.
Most people enjoy a little magic, whether that involves reading fantasy fiction, watching a magical movie or even practising a little magic at family gatherings with the words ‘pick a card, any card’.
One of the most popular fantasy offerings in a generation is Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling, the epic tale of a boy wizard and his quest to defeat the evil Lord Voldemort.
Harry’s exploits along with his friends at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry have captured the imagination of millions of readers and film-goers around the world.
As a chemical engineer and covert Harry Potter admirer, I thought I would combine the two (with a little help from the mischievous blog elves) and highlight the science and engineering behind seven – the most powerful magical number – spells and potions from the wizarding world:
1. Essence of dittany
You may remember the use of this potion from the final instalment of the series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, as Ron Weasley ‘splinched’ his arm after ‘disapparating’ to escape the grips of a Death Eater (follower of Lord Voldemort). Essence of dittany, from a plant that produces a healing and restorative properties, and was applied to treat Ron’s injuries – instantly.
Today is Day 358, and there are just eight days left to shine a light on chemical engineering. One of the driving motives behind this blog has been to find ways to make chemical engineering more accessible to a wider audience.
We sometimes struggle when we have to explain our work to non-chemical engineering friends and family. But I think I know how to do this and over the years I have found a variety of useful examples to help get the point across.
Here are my eight simple ways to demystify chemical engineering to your friends and family:
1. Turn the lights off
This is probably the easiest way to demonstrate the power (if you’ll excuse the pun) of chemical engineering. So much of the work we do goes to provide electricity supplies for homes and business worldwide. Without chemical engineering, our lives would be much harder and a lot darker. Turn out the lights and challenge your audience to switch them on again without gas, oil, coal, nuclear or renewable power and a lot of chemical engineering.
Today is Day 357, meaning there are just nine days left to shine a light on chemical engineering. I thought today would be a good opportunity for me to select my nine favourite reasons why chemical engineering matters.
I really enjoyed the whiteboard messages that were written at the ChemEngDayUK 2015 conference held earlier this year in Sheffield, so I have chosen my favourite ‘I make a difference’ snapshots to share with you today.
Here are the nine people who use chemical engineering to make a difference:
1. Jon from the University of Bath who makes a difference “by providing safe water to developing countries”.
Today is Day 356, meaning there are just ten days left to shine a light on chemical engineering. So I thought I would take the opportunity to countdown some important facts and stories from the wonderful world of chemical engineering in the ten days remaining before the end of ChemEng365.
I’m starting with ten chemical engineers who have truly inspired the chemical engineering community, used their skills to shape the world we live in and improved quality of life for all.
1. George E Davis
George E Davis is often regarded as the ‘founding father’ of chemical engineering, No list of chemical engineers is complete without him. George shaped the world of chemical engineering as it emerged in the late 1800s; with George coining the term ‘chemical engineering’. The first chemical engineering course was delivered by George at the University of Manchester in 1887 in the form of 12 lectures covering various aspects of industrial chemical practice – this kick started the revolution that spawned generations of world-changing chemical engineers.
The carbon capture pilot plant is so big that it stretches over four floors of our building, right at its centre – which is pretty impressive for a university pilot plant and helps provide a sense of scale for the real thing.
The pilot plant provides our students with an opportunity to grapple with some of the practical challenges that they will encounter in industry. It certainly presents the opportunity to hone a few of the skills that might prove useful in the future.
There are 17 rare earth metals in the periodic table, but they are not ‘rare’ because of a lack of abundance – they are rare because they are usually found dispersed in small amounts.
These rare earth metals find use in many modern day applications ranging from healthcare and electronics, to computers and advanced transportation. Two rare earth metals that are particularly useful in sustainable technology and high-tech applications – europium and yttrium.
Europium and yttrium are difficult to mine but they can be recycled and recovered from another source – red lamp phosphor (a powder used in fluorescent lamps and low energy light bulbs).
The name, Trevor Kletz, needs little introduction to anyone who has been involved with chemical process safety over the past forty years. Trevor died in 2013 at the age of ninety.
He is greatly missed but his impact on the chemical engineering profession was enormous and his name is rarely uttered along without the words ‘hero’ or ‘guru’ as well as ‘teacher’, ‘mentor’ or ‘friend’, in the same breath.
Trevor spent his entire career at ICI (Imperial Chemical Industries), and by the time of his retirement in 1982 he had created a safety culture within the company with a major positive impact on accident statistics.
This success was attributed to his powerful intellect on one hand, but also to his exceptional communication skills. Trevor’s ability to reduce complicated issues to simple fundamentals was the stuff of legend.
Throughout my blog, I have highlighted some important chemical engineering innovations. I wanted to shine a light on the valuable contribution that my profession makes to the world around us.
Some of the most important work that we do isn’t just using our technical knowledge; it’s talking to the next generation of chemical engineers and sharing that knowledge.
My first work experience of industrial chemistry and engineering, a summer job at Podmore and Sons pottery in Stoke-on-Trent, UK, sparked an interest that shaped my future career.
Being exposed to different careers can give a taster for chemical engineering. These experiences can spark excitement and interest that can grow into a fruitful career.
With this in mind, IChemE is proud to support an initiative run by Amec Foster Wheeler. The Amec Foster Wheeler Young Engineers Scheme (YES) has been developed by the company’s engineering teams in Reading, UK, to encourage student involvement in engineering.
Chemical engineering has to be one of the most creative of all professions. We look for opportunities in everything, even in the air that surrounds us.
In the early 20th century, Carl von Linde pioneered the process of air separation, splitting air into its pure components. He developed a technique to obtain pure oxygen and nitrogen by means of fractional distillation from liquefied air.
Since then, air separation has been applied to many products we use every day. In February, I attended an IChemE event at the University of Surrey. During the event, I met Jama Salimov, an Advanced Process Control Engineer at Air Products. Jama was keen to shine a light on his work in air separation and ensure that we all understand its many applications.
Air separation typically separates air into its primary components – nitrogen and oxygen. However, it can also isolate some of the more rare parts of the air such as argon.
The products of air separation have a wide variety of uses in our everyday lives. Many of us use them without even realising it – and Jama was keen to tell me all about them.
I was so impressed with today’s guest blogger’s recent webinar (arranged by IChemE’s Food and Drink SIG) I got in touch with him to ask about his work and why he became a chemical engineer. Thomas Brewer works in the food industry for SABMiller as an engineering consultant.
He has had an interesting career path, so I’ll let him explain it in more detail:
I am perhaps unusual amongst our profession as I knew from a very early age that I wanted to be a chemical engineer. At about the age of 11, I was becoming more aware of the world around me and noted the science articles about Brazil, the oil crisis and biofuels in newspapers. I decided chemical engineering would help me be a part of the solution and give me an opportunity to make an impact.
If asked what today’s big challenges are, I would say we already recognise the issues around water and energy and we are going to have to deal with protein. Every day our society downgrades or throws away protein, we need to get better at valuing it for what it is.
When I speak to chemical engineers, there is lots of discussion about the sectors they work in: energy; water; food; pharma and more.
However, I often hear people saying that the big issue in the professional science and engineering community is retention of people.
In the UK, the phrase ‘leaky pipeline’ has been used to describe science and engineering graduates that leave their fields to pursue careers in other areas – the finger is normally pointed at finance or investment banking.
But I don’t see this as problem, because you don’t have to practise chemical engineering to be a chemical engineer. I am pleased that other professions actively seek to recruit chemical engineers – because of the skills they have (see my blog ‘Ten skills chemical engineers should be talking about‘) and the calibre of our chemical engineering graduates.
The team, from the University of Pittsburgh‘s Swanson School of Engineering, US, have developed a computational model which has allowed them to design a new material. The material has the ability reconfigure its shape and move using its own internally generated power. This ability to change was seen as a catalyst for the development of a soft robot.
This research, undertaken by Dr Anna C. Balazs, Professor of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering and Dr Olga Kuksenok, Research Associate Professor, uses a single-celled organism, Euglena mutabilis, as a model. E. mutabilis is able to process energy to expand and contract its shape. This results in movement.
Outreach is a really important part of being a chemical engineer. Inspiring the next generation of engineers should be a priority for all of us.
Throughout my year as president, I have become more aware of the great outreach initiatives and campaigns run by companies, organisations and universities around the world.
I’m proud to see so many chemical engineers who are enthusiastic about shining a light on our profession.
I recently attended a presentation given by Dr Mark Haw, senior lecturer in chemical and process engineering at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, UK. He talked about a fantastic group of researchers who run nano-themed workshops to engage with schools and the public through ‘Really Small Science‘.
So I have asked Mark to tell us more about their nano-enterprise:
Contamination is a big danger in the food industry. For example, in the US nearly half of all food borne illnesses can be attributed to contamination.
Preventing and controlling bacterial contamination is critical to ensure the food we eat is safe.
The most common strategy to do this is through industrial washing of food in water containing chlorine. However, this is often not effective and there is a need to develop new methods to combat food contamination.
A team of researchers from Wayne State University, US, have found an alternative to conventional methods; by using oregano oil, which is known to have a strong antibacterial effect.
If you are reading this in the UK – still home to around half of IChemE’s members – I’m sure you are aware that a General Election is taking place today.
IChemE is politically neutral and it adopts an independent position on issues that are viewed as partisan. However, the institution believes that political decisions should be evidence-based and supported by the strongest possible input from the engineering community. That’s why it’s important to engage with politicians and to express a view.
So for today’s blog post, I’ve asked IChemE CEO, Dr David Brown, to share his thoughts on the need for chemical engineers to influence policymakers, not only in the UK but around the world.
Pollsters are predicting that this UK general election will be one of the closest in living memory. In the latest edition of tce (May 2015) I set out my election wish-list for the new UK government covering areas such as education, immigration and climate change.
Whatever the outcome of the election, the government that emerges will undoubtedly have an impact on many areas of the UK economy that rely on chemical and process engineers.
That’s why we need to engage in debates on public policy issues.
Lithium ion batteries are used in a wide range of applications and technologies. As it happens; if you are reading my blog on a smartphone, laptop or tablet, you are probably holding one right now. From mobile phones to electric cars, Li-ion batteries are all around us, but how do we make sure they are safe?
As I have remarked previously in my blog ‘Bulletproof batteries‘, there are significant safety issues associated with Li-ion batteries. In 2013, a problem with overheating batteries forced airlines to ground their Boeing 787 ‘Dreamliner’ aircraft, after reports of batteries bursting into flames.
The use of Li-ion batteries is becoming more wide-spread. So we need to gain a better understanding of the hazards and risks associated with their use.
The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that as many as 2.5 billion people around the world do not have access to adequate toilet facilities.
Poor sanitation results in contaminated drinking water and the spread of infectious diseases including Cholera and Dysentery, which cause severe diarrhoea, dehydration and if left untreated, death (see my blog, ‘Everyone should have a human right to water’).
Every year, around 1.5 million people – mostly children under five years old – die from diarrhoea. Drastic action is needed in order to make safe sanitation accessible to all.
Most people, in the UK at least, will be familiar with the fairy tale of ‘Goldilocks and the Three Bears‘, where Goldilocks, a young girl, seeks out products that are not too strong and not too weak – aiming for ones that are ‘just right’.
This is the aim of chemical engineers who work on the development and delivery of consumer products. There is a strong focus on achieving a consistent outcome that the customer deems to be ‘just right’.
David described how science and engineering are applied to transform household detergents into higher value specialty products. He went on to explain how improved consumer satisfaction is being delivered by creating a washing product that leaves an appealing fragrance on freshly laundered clothes.
David and his team achieved this by creating a product that deposits perfume micro-capsules onto fabric during the wash cycle. The capsules subsequently fracture and release a pleasing odour in controlled doses.
Chemotherapy is a type of cancer treatment that uses one or more chemical substances to kill cancerous cells. It can be used in conjunction with other cancer treatments, or given alone. But as there are over 100 different chemotherapy drugs, our ability to prescribe the most effective drug to treat a particular tumour can be difficult.
The device, which is about the same size as a grain of rice, is not swallowed or injected, but instead is implanted directly into a cancerous tumour, where it can directly administer small doses of up to 30 different drugs.
We are all heavily reliant on personal computers. At home, at work and on the move. However, we have all experienced the noise and annoyance of the cooling fan in our computers when we push their processing power too hard.
Based on these experiences, I am always keen to initiate and promote new relationships between industry and academia.
However, I am by no means alone in valuing the importance of such relationships.
Delegates who attended ChemEngDayUK2015 in Sheffield, UK last month, heard from a range of industry speakers. The main conference sponsor was the German industrial conglomerate Siemens.
Sean McDonagh, who leads the chemicals team for Siemens Digital Factory Process Industries & Drives, gave a very insightful contribution during the opening session. I caught up with him shortly afterwards and he told me about one of Siemens’ latest projects – which focuses on strengthening those all important links between industry and academia.
Last year’s ChemEngDayUK, hosted by the University of Manchester, saw the official opening of a new pilot plant situated within the James Chadwick Building. The plant features Siemens’ distributed control system’. It is designed to help students learn about advanced process automation.