- 10:10 AM

Back to Basics

S. Ganeshan, President, Indian Institute of Chemical Engineers, Toyo Engineering India Ltd., Toyo House, L.B.S. Marg. Kanjurmarg, Mumbai, India

Chemical Engineering is now morphing into Bio-nano-information Technology and there is no point fighting the trend. The uniqueness of Chemical Engineering is that unlike the other branches of engineering that are all derived exclusively from Physics, it is the only discipline that also leverages the unique powers of chemistry to solve ‘Engineering Problems' as it is the only discipline that manipulates material at the molecular and atomic levels. Hence, in the current and future context, how should chemical engineering restructure itself?

If we still cherish the label of ‘Engineers' then there is no escaping the basic engineering tools viz., Mathematics, Physics, Applied Mechanics, Strength of Materials and Electrical Engineering. Another not so new tool will be Computer Science though we should guard to see that we do not go overboard in its intensity.

The core Chemical Engineering subjects of transfer processes, (Fluid Mechanics, Heat Transfer and Mass Transfer), Unit operations and processes and Reaction Engineering will still form the bedrock of all Chemical Engineering. Process design and sizing of equipment (heat exchangers and heaters, contacting equipment, agitators) will remain an integral part of the Chemical Engineering Curricula. A dosage of Economics and Management, especially Project Management, will be useful additions to the ChE's toolkit.

Having said that, I contend that nothing has really changed and we need more of the old. We need to stress on basic engineering and of course on Chemistry. Ultimately, it is Chemistry that defines us. But the chemistry we need to impart to NextGen is different. This Chemistry should be biased towards Thermodynamics, Surface and colloidal Chemistry, Electrochemistry, Biochemistry, Catalysis and Materials Science. I opine that specialization at the Bachelors' level is counter-productive as the ChE needs to have a reasonable depth in other disciplines of engineering also. Unfortunately, what one sees is reduction in emphasis on the core courses mentioned above at the cost of the newer and non-core subjects as received wisdom suggests that such courses would attract more students. Whether the premise is true or not, the fact is that the end product is virtually unemployable in the conventional industry which still needs conventional nuts and bolts ChEs. .

As I perceive it, the trap that the academia is falling into is trying to specialize too early. The eight semesters given over to turn out Chemical Engineers is too short for specialization. What we do need to do is encourage for students to get the basics right and take up a masters' program where such specialization can be considered.