What is Chemical Engineering?

What is a Chemical Engineer?

Chemical Engineers are sometimes referred to as the "universal engineer" because they are needed to solve different problems for a wide range of industry types. This means there are endless opportunities for a chemical engineering graduate.

They often design equipment and processes that are needed to create products out of raw materials.  Working in chemical, environmental and petroleum industries is common and more often there are opportunities in emerging industries based on new materials, semiconductors and biotechnology. 

What do Chemical Engineers do?

  • Develop new methods for the commercial production and control of vital products such as chemicals, minerals, and fossil fuels as well as the control of polluting and toxic substances.
  • Use knowledge of materials, chemical reactions, and industrial processes to pioneer developments in industrial and consumer products.
  • Provide expertise on separation processes, such as distillation, absorption, evaporation, and filtration.
  • Combine unit operations into innovative systems forming new or improved products and processes.
  • Mathematically analyze processes to specify instrumentation for the automatic control of manufacturing plants.
  • Apply engineering principles to research projects leading to the development of new process systems and techniques.
  • Build rewarding careers in industries, government research agencies, and universities.

How do I know if Chemical Engineering is right for me?

There are a lot of skills that come into play and a wide variety of fields that chemical engineers learn about including chemistry, physics, mathematics, machines, mechanics, electronics and computers.

If you think you're interested in this field, it helps if you:

  • Enjoy solving problems
  • Have an eye for details
  • Like to analyze how things work
  • Can use reasoning and logic to solve problems
  • Enjoy math and chemistry
  • Can adhere to important safety standards

Career Opportunities

There are so many options for chemical engineers, it's hard to define this succinctly. Maybe taking a look at what some of our graduates have done can help answer this question:

  • Work for a large chemical, pulp and paper, plastics or textile manufacturing firm
  • Get a job with a government agency or design and consulting firm specializing in environmental regulations and pollution control
  • Enter graduate school to get a more advanced education in areas like thermodynamics, fluid dynamics, mass and heat transfer
  • Enter graduate school to get a degree in medicine, law or business to build on their chemical engineering problem solving skills
  • Join the Peace Corps to help communities develop sanitary waste disposal systems and teach science in rural areas
  • Work in a material science laboratory doing research or developing new products
  • Help manage construction and startups of manufacturing plants or analyze production floors to look for ways to improve operations

UMD's 2021-2022 graduate follow-up report for Chemical Engineering majors shows that we have a 98% placement rate for our students within one year of graduation. That means that almost everyone finishing our programs either finds a career or is enrolled in graduate school soon after graduation.