Chemical engineers use chemical processes to find innovative and creative ways of producing goods that improve and protect human health, the environment and the economy. The work of a chemical engineer can range from the luxurious (developing softer clothes and better cosmetics) to the lifesaving (producing fire-resistant materials and safer foods). Chemical engineer graduates might be involved in cutting-edge research at a pharmaceutical company, discovering how to extend the shelf life of antibiotics, or they might be part of a creative team at a food manufacturing company, dreaming up a delicious new candy bar.
Chemical engineers are employed across a wide spectrum of industries from traditional chemicals and petroleum-based processes to specialty industries such as pharmaceuticals, food and beverage processing, textiles, micro-electronics and the growing field of alternative energy. Since such processes are often energyintensive, involving hazardous materials and producing byproducts and wastes, chemical engineers also work in energy management, safety, pollution prevention and waste treatment and disposal.
As part of their chemical engineering degree program, students may pursue options in bioengineering, environmental engineering, computers, energy, materials science and microelectronics. There is also a premedicine curriculum. More than half of undergraduate chemical engineering students participate in research opportunities in biotechnology, biomedical and tissue engineering and emerging energy systems such as solar-driven hydrogen production and nanotechnology. Students gain hands-on experience through industry co-op positions that often lead to jobs after graduation, and they can gain professional exposure through the student chapters of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers and the Biomedical Engineering Society on campus.
Undergraduate students are encouraged to pursue research opportunities through independent study, the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program, the Discovery Learning Apprenticeship program or research assistantships with faculty. The department offers a senior thesis option as well as a Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) summer program sponsored by the National Science Foundation.
The department’s goal is to prepare students, through both innovative course work and challenging research, to be leaders in the many emerging fields that demand chemical and biological engineers. The program has been ranked 14th among all graduate programs, and eighth among public graduate programs. In addition, a high proportion (18/22) of tenure-track faculty have won one or more national research awards.
The Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering (ChBE) offers an innovative graduate program and emphasizes the doctoral degree. General research areas within the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering include: biomaterials; biopharmaceutical engineering; catalysis, surface science and reaction engineering; complex fluids and microfluidic devices; computational science; energy and environmental applications; membranes and separations; metabolic engineering and directed evolution; nanostructured films and devices; polymer chemistry and engineering; and tissue engineering. There is a particular emphasis on research in biological engineering, functional materials and renewable energy. Research is supported in a variety of manners, including federal grants (NIH, NSF, DOD, etc.), national foundations (Howard Hughes, Cystic Fibrosis, etc.) and industrial collaborators.
Finally, the ChBE Department has an active program in renewable energy research. Studies range from the production and utilization of hydrogen to materials for photovoltaics to biorefining and biofuels research. The latter area has significant support through the Colorado Center for Biorefining and Biofuels (C2B2), a large collaborative research center led by faculty in the department and supported by university, state and industry funding. A number of efforts focus on developing catalysts for converting water to hydrogen and CO2 into fuels such as CO and methanol. Another area of focus is the study of novel photovoltaic materials and structures involving organic, inorganic and hybrid structures for efficient solar energy harvesting.
The department hosts four interdisciplinary research centers, including the Colorado Center for Biorefining and Biofuels, the Center for Pharmaceutical Biotechnology, the Center for Fundamentals and Applications of Photopolymerization and the Center for Membrane Applied Science and Technology. It is also ideally located near several national research labs, such as NREL, NIST, NCAR and NOAA.