Graduate Programs

The graduate program in chemical engineering, with its large proportion of elective courses and independent research, offers experience in any of the fields of departmental activity mentioned in previous sections. For both chemical engineers and those with undergraduate educations in other related fields such as physics, chemistry, and biochemistry, the Ph.D. program provides the opportunity to become expert in research fields central to modern technology and science.

M.S. Degree

The requirements are (1) the core courses: Chemical process analysis (CHEN E4010)/Partial differential equations (APMA E4200), Transport phenomena, III (CHEN E4110), Advanced chemical kinetics (CHEN E4130), and Advanced chemical engineering thermodynamics (CHEN E4130)/Statistical mechanics (CHAP E4120); and (2) 18 points of 4000- or 6000-level courses, approved by the graduate coordinator or research adviser, of which up to 6 may be Master’s research (CHEN 9400). Students with undergraduate preparation in physics, chemistry, biochemistry, pharmacy, and related fields may take advantage of a special program leading directly to the master’s degree in chemical engineering. This program enables such students to avoid having to take all undergraduate courses in the bachelor’s degree program.

Doctoral Degrees

The Ph.D. and D.E.S. degrees have essentially the same requirements. All students in a doctoral program must (1) earn satisfactory grades in the three core courses (CHEN E4010, E4110, E4330, E4130/CHAP E4120); (2) pass a qualifying exam; (3) defend a proposal of research within 12 months of passing the qualifying exam; (4) defend their thesis; and (5) satisfy course requirements beyond the three core courses. For detailed requirements, please consult the departmental office or graduate coordinator. Students with degrees in related fields such as physics, chemistry, biochemistry, and others are encouraged to apply to this highly interdisciplinary program.

Areas of Concentration

After satisfying the core requirement of Chemical process analysis (CHEN E4010), Transport phenomena, III (CHEN E4110), Advanced chemical kinetics (CHEN E4330), and Advanced chemical engineering thermodynamics (CHEN E4130)/Statistical mechanics (CHAP E4120), chemical engineering graduate students are free to choose their remaining required courses as they desire, subject to their research adviser’s approval. However, a number of areas of graduate concentration are suggested below, with associated recommended courses. Each concentration provides students with the opportunity to gain in-depth knowledge about a particular research field of central importance to the department. Graduate students outside the department are very welcome to participate in these course concentrations, many of which are highly interdisciplinary. The department strongly encourages interdepartmental dialogue at all levels.

Science and Engineering of Polymers and Soft Materials. Soft materials include diverse organic media with supramolecular structure having scales in the range 1–100 nm. Their smallscale structure imparts unique, useful macroscopic properties. Examples include polymers, liquid crystals, colloids, and emulsions. Their “softness” refers to the fact that they typically flow or distort easily in response to moderate shear and other external forces. They exhibit a great many unique and useful macroscopic properties stemming from the variety of fascinating microscopic structures, from the simple orientational order of a nematic liquid crystal to the full periodic “crystalline” order of block copolymer mesophases. Soft materials provide ideal testing grounds for such fundamental concepts as the interplay between order and dynamics or topological defects. They are of primary importance to the paint, food, petroleum, and other industries as well as a variety of advanced materials and devices. In addition, most biological materials are soft, so that understanding of soft materials is very relevant to improving our understanding of cellular function and therefore human pathologies. At Columbia Chemical Engineering, we focus on several unique aspects of soft matter, such as their special surface and interfacial properties. This concentration is similar in thrust to that of the “Biophysics and Soft Matter” concentration, except here there is greater emphasis on synthetic rather than biological soft matter, with particular emphasis on interfacial properties and materials with important related applications. Synthetic polymers are by far the most important material in this class.

CHEE E4252: Introduction to surface and colloid chemistry 
CHEN E4620:
Introduction to polymers
CHEN E4640: Polymer surfaces and interfaces
CHEN E6620y: Physical chemistry of macro-molecules
CHEN E6910: Theoretical methods in polymer physics
CHEN E6920: Physics of soft matter

Biophysics and Soft Matter Physics. Soft matter denotes polymers, gels, self-assembled surfactant structures, colloidal suspensions, and many other complex fluids. These are strongly fluctuating, floppy, fluid-like materials that can nonetheless exhibit diverse phases with remarkable long-range order. In the last few decades, statistical physics has achieved a sound understanding of the scaling and universality characterizing large length scale properties of much synthetic soft condensed matter. More recently, ideas and techniques from soft condensed matter physics have been applied to biological soft matter such as DNA, RNA, proteins, cell membrane surfactant assemblies, actin and tubulin structures, and many others. The aim is to shed light on (1) fundamental cellular processes such as gene expression or the function of cellular motors and (2) physical mechanisms central to the exploding field of biotechnology involving systems such as DNA microarrays and methods such as genetic engineering. The practitioners in this highly interdisciplinary field include physicists, chemical engineers, biologists, biochemists, and chemists.

The “Biophysics and Soft Matter” concentration is closely related to the “Science and Engineering of Polymers and Soft Materials” concentration, but here greater emphasis is placed on biological materials and cellular biophysics. Both theory and experiment are catered to. Students will be introduced to statistical mechanics and its application to soft matter research and to cellular biophysics. In parallel, the student will learn about genomics and cellular biology to develop an understanding of what the central and fascinating biological issues are.

CHAP E4120: Statistical mechanics
CHEN E6920: Physics of soft matter
BIOC GR6300: Biochemistry/molecular biology—eukaryotes, I
BIOC GR6301: Biochemistry/molecular biology—eukaryotes, II
CHEN E4750: The genome and the cell
CMBS GU4350: Cellular molecular biophysics

Genomic Engineering.
Genomic engineering may be defined as the development and application of novel technologies for identifying and evaluating the significance of both selected and all nucleotide sequences in the genomes of organisms. An interdisciplinary course concentration in genomic engineering is available to graduate students, and to selected undergraduate students. The National Science Foundation is sponsoring the development of this concentration, which is believed to be the first of its kind. Courses in the concentration equip students in engineering and computer science to help solve technical problems encountered in the discovery, assembly, organization, and application of genomic information. The courses impart an understanding of the fundamental goals and problems of genomic science and gene-related intracellular processes; elucidate the physical, chemical, and instrumental principles available to extract sequence information from the genome; and teach the concepts used to organize, manipulate, and interrogate the genomic database.

The concentration consists of five courses that address the principal areas of genomic technology: sequencing and other means of acquiring genomic information; bioinformatics as a means of assembling and providing structured access to genomic information; and methods of elucidating how genomic information interacts with the developmental state and environment of cells in order to determine their behavior. Professor E. F. Leonard directs the program and teaches CHEN E4750. The other instructors are Profs. D. Anastassiou (ECBM E4060), Jingyue Ju (CHEN E4700, E4730), and C. Leslie (CBMF W4761). The Departments of Chemical, Biomedical, and Electrical Engineering and of Computer Science credit these courses toward requirements for their doctorates. Students may take individual courses so long as they satisfy prerequisite requirements or have the instructor’s permission. All lecture courses in the program are available through the Columbia Video Network, which offers a certificate for those students completing a prescribed set of the courses.

The course Introduction to genomic information science and technology (ECBM E4060) provides the essential concepts of the information system paradigm of molecular biology and genetics. Principles of genomic technology (CHEN E4700) provides students with a solid basis for understanding both the principles that underlie genomic technologies and how these principles are applied. The Genomics sequencing laboratory (CHEN E4760) provides hands-on experience in high-throughput DNA sequencing, as conducted in a bioscience research laboratory. The genome and the cell (CHEN E4750) conveys a broad but precise, organized, and quantitative overview of the cell and its genome: how the genome, in partnership with extragenomic stimuli, influences the behavior of the cell and how mechanisms within the cell enable genomic regulation. Computational genomics (CBMF W4761) introduces students to basic and advanced computational techniques for analyzing genomic data.

Interested parties can obtain further information, including a list of cognate courses that are available and recommended, from Professor Leonard (

Interfacial Engineering and Electrochemistry. Electrochemical processes are key to many alternative energy systems (batteries and fuel cells), to electrical and magnetic-device manufacturing (interconnects and magnetic-storage media), and to advanced materials processing. Electrochemical processes are also involved in corrosion and in some waste-treatment systems. Key employers of engineers and scientists with knowledge of electrochemical/interfacial engineering include companies from the computer, automotive, and chemical industries. Knowledge of basic electrochemical principles, environmental sciences, and/or materials science can be useful to a career in this area.

CHEN E4201: Engineering applications of electrochemistry
CHEN E4252: Introduction to surface and colloid science
CHEN E6050: Advanced electrochemistry
CHEN E3900: Undergraduate research project

Bioinductive and Biomimetic Materials. This is a rapidly emerging area of research, and the department’s course concentration is under development. At present, students interested in this area are recommended to attend Polymer surfaces and interfaces (CHEN E4640); and Physical chemistry of macromolecules (CHEN E6620). Other courses in the “Science and Engineering of Polymers and Soft Materials” concentration are also relevant. When complete, the concentration will include courses directly addressing biomaterials and immunological response.