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Chemistry and Chemical Engineering- Which way to go?

It is frustrating when as a chemical engineer, you interview for jobs with analytical or industrial chemists. Most employers do not know the difference between these two majors hence end up treating them equally in terms of work responsibilities and tasks. However, these two are pretty different from each in so many ways. Let’s look at some of the differences below;

In a Nutshell

Chemists study the building blocks of the physical earth. This includes the properties and interactions of matter in its different forms. Their main focus is research and development of chemical products in a smaller scale before these products are produced on a higher scale.

Chemical engineers take these chemical products and manufacture them at a large scale. They use the knowledge of engineering principles as well as math and physics to achieve this. They are more concerned with cooling and heating large reaction vessels, plant design and operation and pumps and piping to transfer materials.

Education Backgrounds

Chemical engineers have mathematical and physics backgrounds as well as basic understanding of chemistry. In addition to the three units, they have a vast understanding of other engineering principles like fluid mechanics, thermodynamics, mass and energy transfer and instrumentation. It’s a very challenging subject. Some people argue that it is the most demanding course offered in college.

Chemists, on the other hand, have a deeper knowledge of organic and inorganic chemistry. They focus more on chemical properties and a basic understanding of the relationship between chemistry and other sciences. Some of the subjects studied include calculus, general chemistry, biochemistry and physics. They then go ahead and concentrate on more aspects of chemistry like carbon-based compounds, molecular and atomic levels of colloids and surfaces.

Working Environments

Chemists often work in laboratories performing research on chemical products while chemical engineers work in the production floors of factories. Both require the services of each other to convert raw materials into products. The work responsibility of a chemist is to develop a chemical product at a pilot level whilst that of a chemical engineer is to take this research and develop products that are useful for human consumption.

Career Paths

Chemists mainly work in the research departments of a wide range of organizations including private companies, the government or universities. They perform testing of chemicals and apply this knowledge to analyze how the chemicals react with different potential products like food or drugs. The usual title of chemists is ‘Lab Technician’. Some of them who are serious about chemistry may go to graduate schools and work as research conductors, professors or consultants.

Chemical engineers have a wide variety of job functions including technical sales, production managers, shift engineers and quality &safety experts. Their main task is to figure out how to develop the work of chemists at a business scale. They work at determining which manufacturing processes and quality components to use in order to produce environmentally friendly and economically viable products. Since chemical engineers have a solid background on physics and math, their career paths are not limited. Their services are required in a lot of different engineering jobs.

In terms of career advancement, chemists often take up postdoctoral studies in order to expand their opportunities. Chemical engineers are at a better position when it comes to career advancement as they acquire broad trainings and certifications during their career paths.

It is my sincere hope that the knowledge about the differences between a chemist and a chemical engineer will be of help to not only those who are yet to go to college but also clueless employers who thought that these two majors are one at the same thing.

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