A common first semester
Some students enter college confident that a specific engineering discipline is right for them. Other students know they want to be engineers, but are uncertain which discipline to pursue. Some, too, think they want to be engineers, but don't know what being an engineer means.
Bucknell's curriculum is designed to meet the needs of all these students. Every entering engineering student takes the same courses in their first semester – calculus, physics, English literature and composition, and Exploring Engineering. (Those scoring well on Advanced Placement tests may receive credit for some introductory courses.)
Bucknell is proud of its Exploring Engineering course. Team-taught by faculty from each department in the College of Engineering, it is open to liberal arts students as well as engineers. Lectures, design projects and group activities instill a grasp of engineering problem-solving, the profession as a whole, and the various disciplines.
Chemical engineers spend much of their first two years studying fundamental science and math and chemical engineering principles that will be the foundation for upper-level courses. Much of chemical engineering involves an understanding of the atomic nature of matter and the ability to form a bridge from the molecular scale to a larger application scale.
Chemical Engineering Principles, taken in the second semester of the first year, is the study of material and energy balances – the idea that "what goes in must come out." This concept governs all chemical engineering processes – from penicillin and fertilizer production to the design of devices used to clean toxic air emissions.
In this course, students test classroom concepts on real-life production equipment. They’ll climb a distillation tower to collect samples; design, build and test piping systems; assemble and operate a filter press; and use a spray dryer to isolate a powder from a solution. This hands-on approach is repeated throughout the curriculum. Most required chemical engineering courses contain a lab component.
Digging in deeper
The bulk of the chemical engineering curriculum is presented during the third and fourth years. At this time, electives are typically chosen which focus on specialty areas within the discipline. Required coursework includes the study of:
- Heat, mass and momentum transfer
- Equilibrium stage separations
- Reaction kinetics
- Process control
To understand what these topics might encompass, let us give you an example of a pharmaceutical company. Image that chemists have come up with a chemical method to synthesize a new "wonder drug" and your job is to transfer the technology from the test tube to production.
First, you'll consider how the raw materials will get to the reaction vessel, and how the finished product will leave; their flow involves the transfer of momentum. If any volatile materials are used, evaporation – mass transfer – must be considered.
Think about the chemical reaction used to produce the "wonder drug." You’ll have to consider the heating/cooling condition of the reactor and the time for reaction. Knowledge of reaction kinetics, heat transfer, and thermodynamics is needed to provide details of the production.
Once the drug is produced, among other by-products, the compound must be isolated. The study of separations can help to achieve a product that meets the required purity specifications.
Tying it all together
Many of the problems you will solve in class will focus on specific aspects of engineering – heat transfer or thermodynamics, for example. In the real world, however, engineers can be confronted with problems involving several aspects of engineering. These problems rarely have a single correct answer.
At Bucknell, engineers solve multidimensional, open-ended problems in two different senior design courses. In Process Engineering, students are exposed to preliminary process design using computer aids like simulators. In Product Engineering, students focus on product development where they are involved in small scale production of an actual chemical product and are concerned with all aspects of the manufacturing – from raw material selection to packaging. In both courses, students learn to account for important factors such as economics, sustainability and environmental impact.
Developing a focus – electives and undergraduate research
Chemical engineering is a broad profession and encompasses more than can be taught in the courses described above. Chemical engineers are involved in everything from traditional oil refining to cutting-edge biotechnology. At Bucknell, you can begin to explore areas of specialization through selection of elective courses and optional specialization tracks.
Also, undergraduate research is considered an important educational opportunity. Students work closely with a faculty advisor in an area of focus. Many choose to satisfy one or more elective requirements with independent study credits and are encouraged to present their independent work at research symposia and professional society meetings.
Topic areas include:
- Alternative energy
- Biochemical engineering
- Polymer science and engineering
- Applied software engineering
- NMR process imaging
- Atmospheric chemistry and physics
- Nanotechnology and photolithography
The chemical engineering curriculum offers opportunities to develop communication and teamwork skills through instruction and guided practice. Effective interpersonal skills can make a student stand out among peers with similar education and training.
Many courses require technical report writing and oral presentation skills. Students are encouraged to use the University Writing Center, where trained tutors can assist students in all stages of the writing process. Presentations can be videotaped for students to self-reflect and improve their presentation style.
As in the professional world, teamwork is an integral part of the Bucknell undergraduate experience. Students work in groups for most lab assignments and many in-class assignments and projects. These involve formalized team activities, with students learning effective techniques, practicing different roles and receiving feedback from group members and faculty. As a result, students gain a head start on becoming effective team members and leaders in the real world.