Undergraduate Program

Chemical Engineering

Graduates of the Chemical Engineering Program achieve success in one or more of the following within a few years of graduation:

  1. Careers in industries that require technical expertise in chemical engineering.
  2. Leadership positions in industries that require technical expertise in chemical engineering.
  3. Graduate-level studies in chemical engineering and related technical or scientific fields (e.g. biomedical or environmental engineering, materials science).
  4. Careers outside of engineering that take advantage of an engineering education, such as business, management, finance, law, medicine, or education.
  5. A commitment to life-long learning and service within their chosen profession.

Upon graduation, we expect our students to have:

  1. An ability to apply knowledge of mathematics, science, and engineering
  2. An ability to design and conduct experiments, as well as to analyze and interpret data
  3. An ability to design a system, component, or process to meet desired needs within realistic constraints such as economic, environmental, social, political, ethical, health, and safety, manufacturability, and sustainability
  4. An ability to function on multidisciplinary teams
  5. An ability to identify, formulate, and solve engineering problems
  6. An understanding of professional and ethical responsibility
  7. An ability to communicate effectively
  8. The broad education necessary to understand the impact of engineering solutions in a global, economic, environmental, and societal context
  9. A recognition of the need for and an ability to engage in life-long learning
  10. A knowledge of contemporary issues
  11. An ability to use the techniques, skills, and modern engineering tools necessary for engineering practice

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:

  • Of the seven elective courses, at least five must be within SEAS. Among those courses, at least four must have significant engineering content (i.e. are not mathematical in nature). At least two must be within chemical engineering (e.g., with the designator BMCH, CHEN, CHEE, CHAP, or MECH). At least one must be outside chemical engineering.
  • The remaining technical elective courses must contain "advanced science" coursework, which includes the natural sciences and certain engineering coursework. At least one of these courses must be taken outside of SEAS (e.g., in a science department at Columbia). Qualifying engineering courses are determined by Chemical Engineering department advisors.

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 accredited by the Engineering Accreditation Commission of ABET, http://www.abet.org.

Requirements for a Minor in Chemical Engineering

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