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What is the difference between chemical engineering and chemistry?

  1. Jan 11, 2006 #1
    I've been really trying to grasp the differences between the two.

    Do Chemists mainly stay in labs and do quality controll/reasearch?
    While Chemical engineers put allready obtained knowledge into use?

    I'm really confused on this and can't decide which is more of the direction I'd like to follow.

    Thank you for any help.
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 11, 2006 #2
    This is not that easy of a question because there is definitely a overlap between the two. Chemical engineers can spend long hours in the lab too and do quality research. I think the difference might be that chemical engineers use the chemistry and its understanding to improve upon the operation or efficiency or eviromental friendliness of tools or devices benaficiary to mankind although this is kinda vage I admit. Chemist are more interested in the understanding of the chemical proces itself. If you like to build stuff and use the chemistry as a tool I would advice chemical engineering.
  4. Jan 16, 2006 #3
    Certainly in the UK I would regard chemistry as the easier option if you're looking to study one or t'other, and the degree I did (in Chemical Engineering) was largely theoretical, a wee bit of chemistry, mostly maths and physics to a quite demanding level. But when it all comes together in design calculations it was kinda rewarding. A number of my colleagues dropped out and went to do chemistry instead. In industry the disciplines are quite different, but I would agree that in research there is a lot of overlap. Though I find chemists a little pedantic...
  5. Jan 18, 2006 #4
    Here's a link that you may find interesting, with some humour included: http://www.cems.umn.edu/orgs/aiche/archive/a_whatis.html" [Broken]

    My experience was that after choosing Chemical Engineering for my university studies, it wasn't until I got there and started my first year that I really knew what it was about.

    Read that link, and ask any more questions you may have about the differences.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 2, 2017
  6. Jan 11, 2007 #5
    I am a chemical engineer and my degree was the same as Thearny's one!! So, no need to comment..i think he covered it well :P lol
  7. Jan 20, 2007 #6
    I've heard it put succinctly: chemists use test-tubes, chemical engineers use buckets.

    But then I'm a mechanic.
  8. Oct 30, 2007 #7
    Is it possible to do chem engineering after getting a undergraduate degree in Chemistry
  9. Oct 31, 2007 #8


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    I don't think you'd ever see a chemist spec'ing out a centrifugal pump for a process...
  10. Oct 31, 2007 #9
    I will try to do my best explaining this.

    In general any engineering requires formal training in design, economics and managerial practices that normally a chemist do not have. Chemical engineers receive intensive training on transport processes such as mass transport, which chemists although have a fair understanding, they usually do not possess the knowledge in this area as Chemical engineers do.

    Now, chemists in general receive a much more intensive training in Chemistry. In this case the Chemical engineer normally has a good understanding but not as strong as chemists. Actually there are numerous Chemical engineers with limited knowledge in chemistry also. Chemists in general receive a more intensive training in theoretical knowledge which prepare them for many challenges an ordinary engineer might have some trouble. So no profession is better than other, you just have to choose based on your goals and aptitudes.

    Okay, in research, this is a big mess in many areas. As an example chemists have traditionally investigated homogeneous catalysis whereas chemical engineer have dealt more with heterogeneous catalysis because their backgroud in mass transport. But today you see research from both fields in chemistry departments as well as chemical engineering departments. The same thing is happening with research in biological applications where is generally an overlap between both departments. Actually there are schools that have placed both programs under the same building.

    In terms of research setting (lab work, desk) is becoming more common that these professions are becoming undistiguishable although traditionally chemists are more involved in the lab.
  11. Nov 10, 2007 #10


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    Nice response, Jacone.
    I'm starting to wonder, though, whether or not these definitions are universal. An acquaintance of mine who is a chemical engineer told me that his function is to design the equipment such as gas cracking plants that perform chemical processes. It's not the chemistry itself that he's involved with; just the methods to perform that chemistry. Do the boundaries change from place to place?
  12. Nov 12, 2007 #11

    That role is completely expected due to the intensive traning chemicals engineers receive in design and transport processes compared to chemists.


    It is possible to perform a graduate degree in Chemical Engineering after your BS in chemistry. If you are still working on your chemistry degree, it is highly recommended to take Chemical Reactor Design, Fluid dynamics, heat transfer, and Mass transfer operations. Also make sure you have taken a differential equations course, since this is the life of the chemical engineering graduate student at least during time he/she is taking courses.

    Even if you have not taken all these courses, you would be admitted to a chemical engineering program often with the condition of taking a couple of these courses. This is not a bad deal anyway, since you need to spend four to six years on the PhD.
  13. Dec 14, 2009 #12
    this is kinda waay later than the rest of the comment has been going on, but this forum helped me tons.
    i was wondering if that url was still vaild? when i click it, it says that it couldnt be found. maybe its just my computer? in that case, can i please know how to access that page form the simple url?
    Last edited by a moderator: May 4, 2017
  14. Dec 21, 2009 #13
    Looks like them silly upland smaller groundhogs updated their site since Jan '06...

    Try this one now: http://www.cems.umn.edu/orgs/aiche/mainNew.html [Broken]
    Last edited by a moderator: May 4, 2017
  15. Jan 2, 2010 #14
    seems like this is an old thread
    but i would like to give in my 2 cents though
    well basically a chemical engineer can also be a chemist but in contrast a chemist cant be a chemical engineer as they dont have the certificate in engineering course
    and yeah chemical engineering is more of theoretical and of course lots of maths and physics rather than just chemistry
  16. Mar 4, 2010 #15
    A lot of people thought that the chemists would have a better career than chemical engineers, or chemical engineers better, that's wrong, in fact they are a huge circle, let me explain that..
    The chemists treat with small quantities at labs, and the chemical engineers with large at the factories, the chemists do their researches to improve chemistry, chemical engineers take the results to develop their products.
    The real job of the chemical engineers is solving problems at the factories, and these problems usually chemical problems, and sometimes new problem, so they need the chemists results, this was the difference between the job title, there are some differences such as safety and mechanical skills which are required for chemical engineers more than chemists, but there working in one circle and the cannot be separated, and the answer of your question is No jawn, sometimes chemists must work at the factory with the chemical engineers such as the high petrochemical fields, and chemical engineers may work at labs such as the drugs manufacturing, don't confuse yourself by who works where, just focus on the real job, I hope my answer was useful
  17. Mar 8, 2010 #16
    As a person who holds a BS in Chemical Engineering, there aren't that many differences. A chemical engineer is concerned with designing a reactor, heat exchanger, or any other equipment which deals with chemicals. To do this you need a background in mass transport, reaction kinetics, process control, and thermodynamics. They deal with process modeling. Chemists don't design equipment. They design chemical reactions so they need (or should have) a background in reaction kinetics, thermodynamics, organic/inorganic chemistry, and instrumentation. Chemists at the graduate level also do mathematical modeling if they choose to go into computational chemistry. In reality, there is significant overlap between both fields especially in research.

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