Chemical engineering is a highly interdisciplinary field concerned with materials and processes at the heart of a broad range of technologies. Practicing chemical engineers are the experts in charge of the development and production of diverse products in traditional chemical industries as well as many emerging new technologies. The chemical engineer guides the passage of the product from the laboratory to the marketplace, from ideas and prototypes to functioning articles and processes, from theory to reality. This requires a remarkable depth and breadth of understanding of physical and chemical aspects of materials and their production.
The expertise of chemical engineers is essential to production, marketing, and application in such areas as pharmaceuticals, high-performance materials in the aerospace and automotive industries, biotechnologies, semiconductors in the electronics industry, paints and plastics, petroleum refining, synthetic fibers, artificial organs, biocompatible implants and prosthetics and numerous others. Increasingly, chemical engineers are involved in new technologies employing highly novel materials whose unusual response at the molecular level endows them with unique properties. Examples include environmental technologies, emerging biotechnologies of major medical importance employing DNA- or protein-based chemical sensors, controlled-release drugs, new agricultural products, and many others.
Driven by this diversity of applications, chemical engineering is perhaps the broadest of all engineering disciplines: chemistry, physics, mathematics, biology, and computing are all deeply involved. The research of the faculty of Columbia’s Chemical Engineering Department is correspondingly broad. Some of the areas under active investigation are the fundamental physics, chemistry, and engineering of polymers and other soft materials; the electrochemistry of fuel cells and other interfacial engineering phenomena; the bioengineering of artificial organs and immune cell activation; the engineering and biochemistry of sequencing the human genome; the chemistry and physics of surface-polymer interactions; the biophysics of cellular processes in living organisms; the physics of thin polymer films; the chemistry of smart polymer materials with environment-sensitive surfaces; biosensors with tissue engineering applications; the physics and chemistry of DNA-DNA hybridization and melting; the chemistry and physics of DNA microarrays with applications in gene expression and drug discovery; the physics and chemistry of nanoparticle- polymer composites with novel electronic and photonic properties. Many experimental techniques are employed, from neutron scattering to fluorescence microscopy, and the theoretical work involves both analytical mathematical physics and numerical computational analysis.
Students enrolling in the Ph.D. program will have the opportunity to conduct research in these and other areas. Students with degrees in chemical engineering and other engineering disciplines, in chemistry, in physics, in biochemistry, and in other related disciplines are all natural participants in the Ph.D. program and are encouraged to apply. The Department of Chemical Engineering at Columbia is committed to a leadership role in research and education in frontier areas of research and technology where progress derives from the conjunction of many different traditional research disciplines. Increasingly, new technologies and fundamental research questions demand this type of interdisciplinary approach.
The undergraduate program provides a chemical engineering degree that is a passport to many careers in directly related industries as diverse as biochemical engineering, environmental management, and pharmaceuticals. The degree is also used by many students as a springboard from which to launch careers in medicine, law, management, banking and finance, politics, and so on. For those interested in the fundamentals, a career of research and teaching is a natural continuation of their undergraduate studies. Whichever path the student may choose after graduation, the program offers a deep understanding of the physical and chemical nature of things and provides an insight into an exploding variety of new technologies that are rapidly reshaping the society we live in.