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An Idea For Unemployed Chemists

January 27, 2014 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 92, Issue 4

Have you ever wondered why chemical engineers fresh out of school, or at any level for that matter, are offered higher salaries than chemists? Or, why is unemployment for chemists a more likely circumstance than it is for chemical engineers? Both majors take the same organic and physical chemistry classes. We all love the beautiful science of chemistry, so why this startling difference?

Linda Wang’s recent article, “Hired … for Now,” highlights eight career-related benefits from the American Chemical Society to aid unemployed members (C&EN, Dec. 2, 2013, page 33). Here’s another: Any students majoring in chemistry as well as any unemployed chemists would find their career enhanced by even a brief exposure to chemical engineering.

For an introduction to chemical engineering, chemists at any level should consider enrolling in two gatekeeper courses in the chemical engineering curriculum: “Material Balances” and “Energy Balances.” No need to fret about that great demon for many nonengineering students—math—for in these two courses the most advanced math required is arithmetic. Rather, what is required is detailed analytical thinking and practice in application to many different sorts of problems. Consider this one: Your car runs on gasoline with 10% excess air having a relative humidity of 30%. Calculate the quantitative analysis of the exhaust from the tailpipe.

One can easily imagine all sorts of similar complex problems to solve. They seem trivial in principle, but they are tedious in practice. So be prepared. Chemical engineering courses are hard—no auditing. After this taste, one might try a course that covers thermodynamics or perhaps heat transfer. But now advanced math becomes essential.

Henry McGee
Richmond, Va.



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