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Engineering Chemical vs Mechanical Engineering

  1. Apr 18, 2017 #1
    I am a high school senior caught between these two fields. they both seem very exciting and I am not sure which would be better suited for my interests. In high school, my favorite subjects have been Physics, Chemistry, and Computer Science. I am interested in working to develop:

    -more efficient solar panels
    -energy dense, environmentally-friendly batteries
    -viability of nuclear fusion as an energy source
    -sustainable, longer lasting materials

    Which field is better for these interests?

    I like the fact the Chemical Engineering degree includes a more diverse array of courses including fluid mech, chemistry, and mass transfer. On the other hand, Mechanical Engineering seems to offer a more diverse array of job opportunities. ChemE jobs seems to be constrained to the pharmaceutical, chemical, oil&gas, and biotech industries.

    I am not sure how much weightage I should give to this however. I have heard that engineers in the industry typically perform calculations to achieve business projects but don't work in actually developing new technology. I have also heard that the R&D researchers who are involved in developing new technology are seen as expendable and first-to-go in most industries. If that is case, then perhaps academia might be better for my interests and the job opportunities factor should not matter.
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 18, 2017 #2
    There is considerable overlap between the two areas. Courses in fluid mechanics, chemistry, heat and mass transfer will be a part of both curricula. You are largely correct about the ChemE being limited to pharma, chemical, oil & gas, and biotech.

    When a company is in financial difficulties, any and all employees are expendable. Academia is no safe haven, however, because you will be largely constrained to work on the projects for which you can obtain funding. The almighty $$$ governs everywhere!
  4. Apr 19, 2017 #3
    But which field is better for my interests mentioned above?

    At the school I'm going to ChemE requires 21 credit hours of chemistry coursework while MechE only requires 3 (which I've already completed through my AP credits).
  5. Apr 19, 2017 #4
    Which is better for you, David, is something that only you can decide. No one else can tell you the answer to that question.
  6. Apr 19, 2017 #5
    ME is broader field of study, provides a very good foundation for launching into very diverse areas. ChemE...a narrower focus. My experience is that ChemE is in high demand (& high salary) because the curriculum is very rigorous. Only the strong survive.

    Ummmm...well...Consider this. My last salaried job was working for a R&D division of a large chemical/plastics company. The purpose of the R&D was to develop the technology necessary to put polycarbonate windows on automobiles instead of glass windows. We were neck deep in ChemE's. Their job was to develop coatings on the PC, then also develop industrial processing methods to 6σ quality levels in order to scale up to mass production. Interesting work: process development, quality engineering, testing, documentation, producing customer prototypes, and patent applications. Was a bit of a challenge for me as an ME to try to explain tooling / mechanical / machinery issues to ChemE's. These topics just weren't part of their knowledge, but it was part of mine. Fun times. We both learned a lot from each other.
  7. Apr 20, 2017 #6
    I mean which major: MechE or ChemE would better set me up to work in these fields:

  8. Apr 22, 2017 #7
    I had similar interests and I decided MechE for the career breadth. I'm pretty sure MechE's can work in fusion and longer-lasting materials. Not sure about the more efficient solar panels and energy dense batteries part. I think that may be more of ChemE thing but I don't know of any jobs in the industry where ChemEs work on batteries/solar panels. That's most done on the research side.
  9. Apr 22, 2017 #8
    Which engineers were in charge of designing the polycarbonate windows?
  10. Apr 25, 2017 #9
    ChemE + ME: both engaged with process development activities.
    The mechanical design of the windows themselves: this was done by customer engineers. We received the CAD models of the parts and had to produce prototypes. The assumption is that customer MEs created the CAD model design.
  11. May 16, 2017 #10
    So I'm pretty much decided that I want to work on energy materials for electrolysis of water, photovoltaics, and batteries. It seems that ChemE research more relevant but when looking at jobs in the industry, MechE jobs seem to be more relevant. The only ChemE jobs I could find were in pharma, plastics, and oil. So what should I give more precedence to?
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