University subject profile: chemical engineering

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The practical application of maths and science to design, develop and produce everyday products on a large scale

What you’ll learn
Chemical engineers turn raw materials into the products and services that form the backbone of society, from clean water to healthcare products. Chemical engineering has played a part in the production of most things you use every day, from toothpaste to petrol. It’s a multifaceted discipline, with subjects including chemistry, physics and maths.

You’ll learn how the practical elements of chemistry can be used to manufacture goods. Traditionally, the discipline has focused on oil and gas, but now involves much more, and graduates could find themselves working in areas such as nanotechnology and bioengineering. You’ll learn about the vital role chemical engineers play in environmental protection, health and safety controls, management of resources and improving quality of life.

Chemical engineering deals with many of the same materials and processes as a course in pure chemistry, but involves more real-world application.

How you’ll learn
Courses offer a mixture of lectures, tutorials and workshops, plus practical sessions in the lab or computer workshops. Most encourage you to get hands-on experience by pursuing a project. You’ll learn how to solve problems, particularly when it comes to considering the social and ethical difficulties your work could create.

Engineering involves lots of teamwork, so you’ll be equipped to work towards a common goal. Most courses have strong industry links, so there’s a good chance you’ll complete work placements; some courses include a year in industry.

Assessment will take the form of coursework, essays, oral assessment, practical work and written exams.

Entry requirements
Chemical engineering is a competitive course, and many universities will ask for three As at A-level, though offers could range from BBC to A*AA.

More selective universities will require maths, chemistry and physics. Biology, further maths, computing or computer science will help your application.

What job can you get?
Chemical engineers are highly sought after. Because of the nature of your degree, and especially if you pick a course with an integrated master’s, you’ll have the tools to walk into a firm and get on with the job straight away. Your degree will set you up to work in the design, manufacture and operation of plants and machinery, or in the development of new or adapted substances and materials.

The transferable skills you’ll acquire are a gateway to industries including oil and gas, petrochemicals, pharmaceuticals, energy, environment, food and water, and banking and finance.

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