Both Chemistry and Chemical Engineering are becoming increasingly important and deserve greater public recognition, but they are very distinct. Here’s a list with 10 major differences between these specialisations. Keep in mind that both specialisations obviously also have a major overlap on some points.
The most apparent difference between chemists and chemical engineers is recognition. The public at large understands what a chemist does, but there is a lack of recognition of what chemical engineering is.
Perhaps the highest form of recognition for both chemists and chemical engineers would be winning a Nobel Prize. The Nobel Prize in Chemistry has been awarded to 166 laureates since 1901 but only six of these winners can be classified as chemical engineers; Koichi Tanaka, Jon B. Fenn, Kurt Wuthrich, Linus Carl Pauling, William Francis Giauque and Robert H. Grubbs.
Chemistry and the study of it, is an old profession. Records exist of the ancient civilizations amassing practical knowledge of chemistry involved in metallurgy, pottery and dyeing. The study of chemistry as a science began in the 1600s, with chemists like Robert Boyle working towards the formulation of Boyle’s Law.
Chemical engineering emerged in its own right in the late 1800s with George E Davis coining the term ‘chemical engineering’. Understanding of the importance of chemical engineering increased drastically after World War I in 1922.
There are more chemists than there are chemical engineers, perhaps explaining why chemistry is more easily recognised by most people. For example the amount of applications for the study of chemistry in 2014 was almost double the amount to chemical engineering.
There is good news for chemical engineering however. In the last year, chemical engineering has seen an increase of 18.6% in the number of people applying to study it, compared to an increase of 9.4% for chemistry. Obviously not all these students will go on to work as chemists or chemical engineers, but increasing numbers of students are a good sign for both fields.
Chemistry investigates the background of the science encompassing aspects of; organic, inorganic, analytical, physical and bio-chemistry.
Chemical engineering is more multidisciplinary in its approach and includes all of the previous topics, as well as aspects of physics and maths such as; heat transfer, fluid dynamics, equipment design etc.
Chemists tend to focus on developing novel materials and processes, analysing substances, measuring the physical properties of substances and testing theories.
Chemical engineering focuses on turning these new ideas and discoveries into useful products that are attainable. Most work falls into the design, manufacture and operation of plants and machinery; and the development of new materials or substances. Chemical engineers focus on making products for profit and on a scale that is accessible to the many.
Chemical engineers generally get paid more than chemists. If we take a look at the UK for instance, the starting salary of a chemical engineer is £29,500, the starting salary of an analytical chemist is £22,000. This does not change with career progression; senior analytical chemists could earn over £50,000 but chartered chemical engineers can earn £70,000+.
Both chemistry and chemical engineering are good subjects to study and the skills learned can be applied to a variety of different jobs and roles. For chemists typical jobs within the field of chemistry include;
The skills acquired while studying chemistry can also be applied on being an accountant, environmental consultant, patent lawyer, teacher or science writer. Chemists can even go on to become chemical engineers.
Chemical engineers can fill a wide range of roles in a variety of disciplines including; chemical engineer in the water industry, bio-product engineer, food processing engineer or process engineer in the energy industry.
Chemists tend to work in laboratories performing analysis or research and development, but can also be found in offices, classrooms and in the field.
Chemical engineers tend to work at the plant end of research, but also work in laboratories, the field and the boardroom.
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