What is Chemical Engineering? (History and Branches)

Chemical engineering refers to the development of processes, design, and operation of plants where substances change either their physical or chemical state.  Various methods in the industries apply it. It has its foundation on the principles of mathematics, physics, and chemistry. The field is highly influential to the worlds of science, math, and technology.

Chemical engineering practicability and efficiency in operations work on the laws of physical chemistry and physics. Change of energy derive from thermodynamics is particularly considered important. In this article, we’ll go over a few key elements of the field. Firstly, we’ll explore why math and science are important to chemical engineering. Secondly, trends and traditions regarding chemical engineering help to provide insight to the progress of the field. Thirdly, the basics and summary of chemical engineering help to explore what exactly happens in the field. Lastly, we’ll go over implications and information regarding chemical engineering. In the end, you will find yourself much more acclimated to the field. Let’s first begin with the importance of why math and science matter to the field of study.

Why Math Matters to What is Chemical Engineering

Mathematics is the standard tool using the optimization and coming up with models. Optimization refers to the arrangement of materials, energy, and facilities resulting in a more productive and economical operation possible. Modeling relates to the development of theoretical mathematical prototypes of complicated systems, mostly with the help of computers.

The history of chemical engineering traces back to the time of process industries. It’s contents date from the fermentation and evaporation processes applied during the early civilizations. Today, chemical engineering has emerged to be the advancement of large chemical manufacturing scales, especially towards the end of the 19th century.

During its advancement as an independent entity, chemical engineering has majored in solving problems related to the design and operation of large plants for sustained production. In the mid 19th century, chemical manufacture comprised of craft operations.

Due to increased demand and public concern resulting from the poisonous chemical emissions and the increased competition, the need for more efficient systems arose. It changed from the crafts based in science-based industries and the emergence of a combination containing resources for large operations and this led to the transition.

With the knowledge of manufacturing techniques, also known as chemical technologists, increases in demand for chemists. Terms like chemical engineer were in everyday use in 1900. A gradual development from traditional chemical manufacturing, it developed to play a significant role in advancement if the petroleum industry and this when it became fully affirmed as a distinct discipline.

Demand for industries able to run a physical separation process uninterrupted on high-efficiency levels were still a challenge that the traditional mechanical engineers and chemists could not meet. 

A real advancement in the field was through some publication in the 19th century expounding on chemical engineering by a British native and synthetic consultant. It was concerned with the development of industries

Industries comprise of some operations like filtration, mixing and evaporation and operations. The field involves similar concepts brought the idea of departmental activities. Industries articulate an engineer named Arthur of American origin.

Chemical engineering comprises various subsets. Pharmaceutical industry represents engineering challenges and the possible way which is critical to the manufacturing of today’s drugs. The nuclear plant has its requirements on the engineers especially for processing as well as the manufacture of fuels. 

It is engineering that plays a critical role in the design and development of industries and the processes they involve. In all cases, data and predictions obtain and confirm through a pilot project. It provides a model background for economic evaluation for the upcoming projects, in the construction field as well as marketing.

What is Chemical Engineering?

Chemical engineering is an important branch of engineering which deals with chemical production as well as the manufacture of products via various chemical processes. It includes designing systems, equipment, and processes to refine raw materials and to mix, processing and compounding chemicals to make useful products. 

Applied heavily throughout the process industries, chemical engineering based on the core principles of physics, chemistry, and mathematics. Note that the basic laws of physical chemistry as well as physics govern the efficiency and practicability of chemical engineering operations. Also, energy changes derive from mainly from thermodynamic considerations are especially important.

This is why chemical engineering is a discipline that influences numerous areas of technology. 

Mathematics is an essential tool in modeling and optimization. Optimization, in this case, means arranging facilities, materials, and energy in order to yield as economical and productive an operation as possible. 

Modeling, on the other hand, is the development of theoretical mathematical prototypes involving complex process systems, usually with the help of computers.

The Impact of Chemical Engineers

Chemical engineers heavily involve several aspects of plant operation and design, including hazard and safety assessments, process analysis and design, control engineering, construction specification, chemical reaction engineering, and operating instructions.

Chemical engineers these days are in great demand due to the large number of industries that rely on the processing and synthesis of chemicals and materials. Apart from traditional careers in the energy, chemical, and oil industries, many chemical engineers now enjoy increasing opportunities in sectors like pharmaceuticals, biotechnology, electronic device fabrication as well as environmental engineering. This is because the unique and comprehensive training of chemical engineers becomes important in these areas, especially when processes entail the physical or chemical transformation of matter.

Manufacturing industries that often employ chemical engineers are petroleum refining, paint, plastics, batteries, agricultural chemicals (pest control, fertilizers, and weed control), textiles, explosives, food processing, consumer products (personal care, cleaning, lawn care) and pharmaceuticals along with chemical manufacturers that supply a number of products to countless other industries. 

Chemical engineering usually combines a firm background in chemistry with engineering as well as economics concepts in order to solve technological problems. Hence, critical skills needed in modern chemical engineering detail an understanding of chemistry, fluid dynamics and mechanical engineering. 


An English engineer, George E. Davis credits the founding of the discipline of chemical engineering in the later part of the 19th century. 

Davis published his first truly comprehensive and insightful overview of the practice in his 2-volume “Handbook of Chemical Engineering”, based mainly on a series of twelve lectures he gave at the notable Manchester School of Technology. Interestingly, however, he did not teach another course in his lifetime, and opted to devote his remaining career to consulting. However, his handbook, would serve as the essential text for chemical engineering studies for several decades to come. 

Starting from early 1888, Lewis M. Norton started teaching at MIT his first chemical engineering course in the US. Norton simply merged engineering and chemistry subjects along with modern product design. William Hultz Walker introduced unit operations into the course in 1905. 

Unit operations gradually became an essential aspect of chemical engineering at various US universities such as MIT and at Imperial College London by the early 1920s. Established in 1908, The American Institute of Chemical Engineers played a crucial role to make chemical engineering an independent science, and made unit operations fundamental to chemical engineering.

The Emergence of Plants in Chemical Engineering

The idea of a processing plant covering a number of different operations, like mixing, filtration, evaporation, and each of these key operations being almost similar, regardless of the product is what led to the idea of unit operations.

In 1915, it was first studied and enunciated by the famous American chemical engineer Arthur D. Little. This concept formed the basis for the classification of chemical engineering which dominated this subject for the next forty years. Simply the number of unit operations, which are the building blocks of any chemical plant—isn’t large. 

Notably, the complexity arises the diverse variety of physical conditions under which unit operations are usually conducted. 

By the late 1940s, it became evident that unit operations on their own were not sufficient in developing chemical reactors. Although the prevalence of unit operations in most chemical engineering courses in the United States and Britain continued until the late 1960s, transport phenomena began to experience greater focus.

Advancements in Engineering

In addition to other novel concepts, like process systems engineering (PSE), a new “second paradigm” introduce and define the branch. Transport phenomena, as a result, provided an analytical and insightful approach to chemical engineering; on the other hand, PSE focused mainly on its synthetic elements, like process design and control system.

Keep in mind that developments in chemical engineering both before and following World War II were largely brought about by the petrochemical industry. That being said, advances in many other fields were also made. 

 In the 1940s, advancements in biochemical engineering, for example, found their application in the pharmaceutical industry, which allowed for the convenient mass production of a variety of antibiotics, such as streptomycin and penicillin. At the same time, progress in polymer science, especially in the early 1950s paved way for the famous “age of plastics”.

Branches of Chemical Engineering

The core principles and techniques of chemical engineering are at the center of the operation of processes extend well beyond the conventional boundaries of the chemical industry, while chemical engineers are heavily employed in a variety of different operations outside traditional areas.

Note that polymers, plastics, and synthetic fibers entail chemical-reaction engineering problems and issues in their manufacture, with heat transfer and fluid flow considerations dominating their fabrication. Also, the dyeing of a fiber is often a mass-transfer problem. Paper and pulp manufacture involve various considerations of heat transfer and fluid flow. 

There is no denying that the materials and scale are different. In conclusion, these are again found in contemporary continuous production of a variety of foodstuffs. 

Also, the pharmaceuticals industry often presents various complex chemical engineering problems. The solutions to these problems have been vital to the availability of drugs. The field is often the focus of numerous studies and tests.

New and Nuclear Engineering Strides

In the same vein, the nuclear industry makes quite similar demands on chemical engineers. In particular, professionals work for fuel manufactures as well as reprocessing. Chemical engineers involve several sectors of the metal processing industry. The industry includes elements of all sorts of industry. The elements include the separation of rare metals to steel manufacture.

Further key applications of chemical engineering can be found in the fuel industries. In the 20th century, a great number of chemical engineers have been heavily involved in space exploration. Experts help to contribute to the initial design of fuel cells through to the manufacture of various propellants.

This is why in the future it’s likely that chemical engineering would provide the solutions to at least 2 of the world’s main problems: environmental control through prevention of pollution and supply of suitable fresh water in all regions of the world through desalination of seawater.

Biochemical Engineering

Biochemical engineering is chiefly concerned with describing small biological procedures inside organisms. The branch of engineering also involves manipulating the processes to solve problems related to chemical industries. The crucial field combine knowledge of biology, chemistry and engineering.


Biomaterials are artificial materials that are inserted into the body to repair and replace missing tissue. They can be natural or synthetic in composition and are engineered to react with your biological system to cause a diagnostic or therapeutic reaction. It is designed to take an approach where as a sole entity, or as part of a system, it induces reactions and interacts with the components of a body system.

Biomolecular Engineering

Biomolecular engineering involves combining biological and chemical engineering to apply to practical problems in industries and other sciences, like biotechnology. The branch of engineering is chiefly about manipulating molecules using thermodynamics and other methods.


Catalysis is the study of chemical reactions as they are changed by the manipulation of catalysts. Typically, catalysis changes the rate of chemical reactions, and so catalysis is involved in the application of chemical processes and catalysis can be applied to any field.

Ceramic Engineering in Chemical Engineering

Ceramic engineering is a branch of engineering that deals with the technology and science of building an object from non-metallic and inorganic materials. This is achieved by using heat or subjecting to low temperature with the aid of precipitation reactions that are the product of high purity chemical solutions. Ceramic engineering combines the core principles of engineering, physics, and chemistry. Ceramics is also an art form. While many work with ceramics as a means of artistic creation, the field is also crucial to many manufacturing fields. The opportunities in plants and factories determines the output of a given team.


Crystallography is the science that studies crystals in different forms from snowflakes to Salt to gemstones. Crystals consist of atoms, ions, matter, and molecules that gel together in repeating patterns, known as unit cells. Unit cells, when stacked, emerge in three dimensions and produce the crystals. The data from these studies provide information on the structural composition of crystalline solids. Crystallography is a detailed and nuanced field. The field requires special training in order to best fit the details of the subject.

Food Engineering in Chemical Engineering

Food engineering is the manipulation of chemical and biological processes to create practical applications in the food industry. The branch of engineering as an industry focuses on increasing production and decreasing costs, and working with the environment. The field grows yearly thanks to an added focus on the importance of food biology. The field looks to help things like food shortages, hunger, and food deserts in underserved communities.

The Impact of the Field

Many understand the basics of engineering. In reality, the field involves a number of aspects many don’t consider. Chemical engineering drives innovation in every way possible. From the expansion of factories and plants to jobs, the field is crucial to the backbone of the working world. Many study the subject in college as a means for job prospects. If you want to work in a field with limitless opportunities, then this is a great place to be. Firstly, the job market for roles related to the field is prospering. Secondly, the field offers a variety of opportunities in terms of growth. The world will always need the output and insight of experts in this field.


Hopefully, the information in this article helps to increase your understanding of chemical engineering. On Dave4Math, explore a number of other articles about engineering. You can read up on the basics of the field, as well as new trends in the industry. Plus, you can explore beyond the applied sciences. Everything from liberal arts and the humanities to hard sciences feature on Dave4Math. If you want to learn more about the world of knowledge, then you are in the right place! Explore all fields of knowledge on the website with a free account today. Members of the Dave4Math community work together to explore new horizons and assist in the learning process. Get started on Dave4Math today, and explore more in engineering and beyond!