Undergraduate Program

Chemical Engineering

The undergraduate program in chemical engineering at Columbia has five formal educational objectives:

  1. Prepare students for careers in industries that require technical expertise in chemical engineering.
  2. Prepare students to assume leadership positions in industries that require technical expertise in chemical engineering.
  3. Enable students to pursue graduate-level studies in chemical engineering and related technical or scientific fields (e.g., biomedical or environmental engineering, materials science).
  4. Provide a strong foundation for students to pursue alternative career paths, especially careers in business, management, finance, law, medicine, or education.
  5. Establish in students a commitment to life-long learning and service within their chosen profession and society.

The expertise of chemical engineers is essential to production, marketing, and application in such areas as pharmaceuticals, high performance materials as in the automotive and aerospace industries, semiconductors in the electronics industry, paints and plastics, consumer products such as food and cosmetics, petroleum refining, industrial chemicals, synthetic fibers, and just about every bioengineering and biotechnology area from artificial organs to biosensors. Increasingly, chemical engineers are involved in exciting new technologies employing highly novel materials, whose unusual response at the molecular level endows them with unique properties. Examples include controlled release drugs, materials with designed interaction with in vivo
environments, “nanomaterials” for electronic and optical applications, agricultural products, and a host of others. This requires a depth and breadth of understanding of physical and chemical aspects of materials and their production that is without parallel.

The chemical engineering degree also serves as a passport to exciting careers in directly related industries as diverse as biochemical engineering, environmental management, and pharmaceuticals. Because the deep and broad-ranging nature of the degree has earned it a high reputation across society, the chemical engineering degree is also a natural platform from which to launch careers in medicine, law, management, banking and finance, politics, and so on. Many students choose it for this purpose, to have a firm and respected basis for a range of possible future careers. For those interested in the fundamentals, a career of research and teaching is a natural continuation of undergraduate studies.

The first and sophomore years of study introduce general principles of science and engineering and include a broad range of subjects in the humanities and social sciences. Although the program for all engineering students in these first two years is to
some extent similar, there are a few important differences for chemical engineering majors. Those wishing to learn about, or major in, chemical engineering should take the professional elective CHEN E2100 Introduction to chemical engineering in term III, taught by the Chemical Engineering Department. This course is a requirement for the chemical engineering major. It can also possibly serve as a technical elective for other engineering majors. Those wishing to major in chemical engineering should also take ENGI E1006 Introduction to computing for engineering and applied scientists in term II. Chemical engineering majors
receive additional instruction in their junior year on the use of computational methods to solve chemical engineering problems.

In the junior-senior sequence one specializes in the chemical engineering major. The table spells out the core course requirements, which are split between courses emphasizing engineering science and those emphasizing practical and/or professional aspects of the discipline. Throughout, skills required of practicing engineers are developed (e.g., writing and presentation skills, competency with computers).

The table also shows that a significant fraction of the junior-senior program is reserved for electives, both technical and nontechnical. Nontechnical electives are courses that are not quantitative, such as those taught in the humanities and social sciences. These provide an opportunity to pursue interests in areas other than engineering. A crucial part of the junior-senior
program is the 21-point (7 courses) technical elective requirement. Technical electives are science and/or technology based and feature quantitative analysis. Generally, technical electives must be 3000 level or above but there are a few exceptions: PHYS UN1403, PHYS UN2601, BIOL UN2005, BIOL UN2006, BIOL UN2501, and CHEM UN2444. The technical electives are subject to the following constraints:

  • Two technical electives must be within chemical engineering (e.g., with the designator BMCH, CHEN, CHEE, or CHAP).
  • One technical elective must be within SEAS but taken outside of chemical engineering (that is, a course with a designator other than BMCH, CHEN, CHEE, or CHAP).
  • Two technical electives must be within SEAS (may or may not be within chemical engineering).
  • Two technical electives must contain “advanced science” course work, which can include chemistry, physics, biology, and certain engineering courses. Qualifying engineering courses are determined by Chemical Engineering Department advisers. At least one of these classes must be taken outside of SEAS (e.g., in a science department at Columbia; see listing of possible courses above).
  • At most, only one computer science (COMS) or industrial engineering and operations research (IEOR) class can be counted towards the technical elective requirement.

The junior-senior technical electives provide the opportunity to explore new, interesting areas beyond the core requirements of the degree. Often, students satisfy the technical electives by taking courses from another SEAS department in order to obtain a minor from that department. Alternately, you may wish to take courses in several new areas, or perhaps to explore familiar subjects in greater depth, or you may wish to gain experience in actual laboratory research. Up to 6 points of CHEN E3900: Undergraduate research project may be counted toward the technical elective content. (Note that if more than 3 points of research are pursued, an undergraduate thesis is required.)

The program details discussed above apply to undergraduates who are enrolled at Columbia as first-years and declare the chemical engineering major in the sophomore year. However, the chemical engineering program is designed to be readily accessible to participants in any of Columbia’s Combined Plans and to transfer students. In such cases, the guidance of one of the departmental advisers in planning your program is required (contact information for the departmental UG advisers is listed on the department’s website.

Columbia’s program in chemical engineering leading to the B.S. degree is fully accredited by the Engineering Accreditation Commission of ABET.

Requirements for a Minor in Chemical Engineering

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