Chemical Engineering: An Introduction
Chemical engineering is the field of applied science that employs physical, chemical, and biochemical rate processes for the betterment of humanity.” This opening sentence of Chapter 1 has been the underlying paradigm of chemical engineering for at least a century, through the development of modern chemical and petrochemical, biochemical, and materials processing, and into the twenty-first century as chemical engineers have applied their skills to fundamental problems in pharmaceuticals, medical devices and drug-delivery systems, semiconductor manufacturing, nanoscale technology, renewable energy, environmental control, and so on. The role of the introductory course in chemical engineering is to develop a framework that enables the student to move effortlessly from basic science and mathematics courses into the engineering science and technology courses that form the core of a professional chemical engineering education, as well as to provide the student with a comprehensive overview of the scope and practice of the profession. An effective introductory course should therefore be constructed around the utilization of rate processes in a context that relates to actual practice.
Chemical engineering as an academic discipline has always suffered from the fact that the things that chemical engineers do as professionals are not easily demonstrated in a way that conveys understanding to the general public, or even to engineering students who are just starting to pursue their technical courses. (Every secondary school student can relate to robots, bridges, computers, or heart-lung machines, but how do you easily convey the beauty and societal importance of an optimally designed pharmaceutical process or the exponential cost of improved separation?) The traditional introductory course in chemical engineering has usually been called something like “Material and Energy Balances,” and the course has typically focused on flowsheet analysis, overall mass balance and equilibrium calculations, and process applications of thermochemistry. Such courses rarely explore the scope of the truly challenging and interesting problems that occupy today’s chemical engineers.
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