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Biology and ChE: Applying a Molecular Science (Part I) [Blog Series]

October 24, 2012

This is Part 6 in the ChEnected series "We Are ChE: Entering a Golden Age", authored by Incoming 2013 AIChE president Phil Westmoreland. 

At the beginning of this series, I offered a list of four reasons that we’re entering a golden age of ChE. The third reason is that applying biology has become such an important part of chemical engineering.

How has that come to be? “Chemical engineering is what chemical engineers do” is too broad to define our field because ChEs do so many things. A more fundamental description of its roots is “applied molecular science.” Biology has become a molecular science in the last 60 years, but it initially became part of ChE through empirical reaction engineering, separations, transport phenomena, and materials science.

In the Beginning: Bioprocessing

Biology’s application takes many forms. Fermentation to make alcohol is an ancient bioprocessing step, and distillation goes back for three millennia. That was an art, predating ChE as a discipline...

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Phillip R. Westmoreland

Phillip R. Westmoreland is Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at North Carolina State Univ. (NCSU) and Executive Director of the NCSU Institute for Computational Science and Engineering. His chemical engineering degrees are from NCSU (BS, 1973), Louisiana State Univ. (MS, 1974), and MIT (PhD, 1986). He worked in coal research at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (1974–1979), as a ChE faculty member at the Univ. of Massachusetts Amherst (1986–2009), and as a program director at the National Science Foundation (2006–2009).

An AIChE Fellow, Phil began service as public...Read more