Chemical engineers use chemical processes to find innovative 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. As a chemical engineer, you might be involved in cutting-edge research at a pharmaceutical company, discovering how to extend the shelf life of antibiotics, or you 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, microelectronics and alternative energy. Since such processes are often energy-intensive and produce byproducts and wastes, chemical engineers also work in energy management, safety, pollution prevention, and waste treatment and disposal.
Chemical engineers often work in multi-national companies, and some may be employed overseas for segments of their careers.
Highly-cited faculty, innovative teaching methods and excellent new facilities make chemical engineering one of CU Boulder’s strongest engineering programs.
As part of the chemical engineering degree, students may choose curriculum options in energy, materials or pre-medicine. Nearly 70 percent of undergraduates participate in research opportunities in biotechnology, biomedical and tissue engineering and emerging energy systems such as solar-driven hydrogen production and nanotechnology.
Students also gain hands-on experience through industry co-op positions, which often lead to jobs after graduation. Students can find professional exposure through the student chapters of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers, Biomedical Engineering Society and the International Society for Pharmaceutical Engineering.
Trailblazing research is a prime focus in the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering, and every student is encouraged to participate alongside distinguished faculty members. Faculty members have earned numerous awards for their research accomplishments; many hold notable patents and have founded successful start-up companies.
The department is also involved with several interdisciplinary research centers, including the Colorado Center for Biorefining and Biofuels, the Renewable and Sustainable Energy Institute, the Center for Pharmaceutical Biotechnology, the Center for Fundamentals and Applications of Photopolymerization, and the Center for Membrane Applied Science and Technology.
Undergraduate students are encouraged to pursue research opportunities for course credit through independent study, senior thesis options, or volunteering in faculty labs. They also may participate in paid research opportunities such as the Discovery Learning Apprenticeship Program, the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program or the Research Experiences for Undergraduates Program sponsored by the National Science Foundation.
CU chemical engineering graduates can be found at companies around the world, including CH2M Hill, Bend Research, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil, Honeywell, CordenPharma Colorado, Ionis Pharmaceuticals and Jacobs Engineering, along with federal labs such as the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and the National Institute of Standards and Technology.
Many chemical engineering students continue their studies in graduate, medical or law school. About 20 percent of CU Boulder engineering bachelor’s graduates collegewide continue on to graduate school at CU Boulder or other top universities.
Employment of chemical engineers is expected to grow 2 percent from 2014 to 2024, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The demand for these engineers’ services will vary according to demand for various manufactured products. Chemical engineering also is migrating into new fields including nanotechnology, alternative energy and biotechnology, which helps sustain industry demand for engineering services, the Bureau of Labor Statistics notes.
The need for alternative fuels to meet increasing energy demands while maintaining environmental sustainability will demand the expertise of chemical engineers in the oil and gas industries. Innovations in biotechnology that build upon chemical and biological sciences also will create new potential job areas in medical and pharmaceutical fields.
In 2015, chemical engineers with a bachelor’s degree reported an average starting salary of $67,814 nationwide, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers. CU Boulder graduates with a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering reported an average starting salary of $63,750 in 2014.
The median annual salary for a chemical engineer (all career phases) in 2015 was $97,360, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.