Authors & Contributors

Teacher Comments: The range of writing assignments in the chemical engineering curriculum

Interviewer: What types of assignments do you give?

Ken Reardon, Chemical Engineering: Our students have two semesters of chemical engineering lab. Each semester they're responsible for one long report and 2-3 short reports. The other incredibly long writing they do is their senior design project. Since a lot of what chemical engineers design are like heat exchangers, distillation columns that are 120 feet high, we can't really build on of those. So this is more calculation based. Design for us means you calculate, you make decisions about what the process should look like. They're normally given a product to make, and maybe they're supposed to identify a reasonable quantity because economics depends on it. It's up to them to identify what the starting materials should be, a couple of different design procedures, a couple of different options there and there might be different ways to go from any one starting material to [end product] so there's a whole design procedure they go through. And in the end what we wind up with is a schematic essentially for maybe a dozen or more what we call process units, mixing tanks, reactors, distillation columns, filter units. They have to figure out how big each one should be, how much heating requirements. And all the way through this design process, the way it's structured. Here it's the way it is at most companies, that there are reports to be made along the way. Report what you think the different options are, send it off to your supervisor. Report on why you chose option A over the other options, that has to be justified and described. Then that's normally done in the form of memos: that's brief, terse writing with a lot of justification. And then there's the final report that has an executive summary and then after that a lot of detail about what their process is, some summary of the calculations and the calculations themselves. So it's a big assignment that's spread over two semesters.