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Curriculum Reform in the Systems Area

Thomas F. Edgar, University of Texas at Austin, 1 University Station C0400, Austin, TX 78712

A chemical engineering education should provide skills that graduates can use to become successful problem solvers in the process industries. Graduates should be able to

(1) Integrate knowledge and information to aid in solution of chemical engineering problems.

(2) Make estimates and assumptions, face open-ended problems, deal with noisy data and uncertainty, and envision possible solutions.

(3) Hone their problem-solving skills; use computational tools; perform economic analysis; and plan, execute, and interpret experiments.

The systems component of the chemical engineering curriculum ensures that chemical engineering graduates should be able to create and understand mathematical descriptions of physical phenomena; scale variables and perform order-of-magnitude analysis; structure and solve complex problems; manage large amounts of messy data, including missing data and information; and resolve complex and sometimes contradictory issues of process design. Graduates should be able to handle sensitivity of solutions to assumptions, uncertainty in data, what if questions, and process optimization. The systems approach is a fundamental concept that is explicitly addressed only in a few chemical engineering courses. The concept of analyzing a collection of components and processes as an overall system, rather than as individual components, is critical for newer areas of chemical and biological engineering, as well as for traditional areas. The knowledge base of systems consists of methods for dynamic and steady-state simulation at multiple length and time scales, statistical analysis of data, sensitivity analysis, optimization, parameter estimation and system identification, online monitoring and diagnosis design and analysis of feedback systems and design of products and processes.