What Keeps Chemical Engineers Busy in Their Spare Time?

Pictured above is a quilt made by Mary Kathryn Lee.

Whether you’re a professional chemical engineer or just a chemical engineering enthusiast, you might notice that certain elements of chemical engineering are involved with many hobbies, skills, and crafts.

Chemical engineers can wear many different hats throughout their careers. Many also apply the knowledge they’ve gained to personal hobbies and interests outside their profession.

A question posted in both Discussion Central and the Process Engineering Discussion Community asked about what some of these hobbies might be.

See below how some chemical engineers spend their time outside the workplace.


I make quilts, an expensive and time consuming hobby. That may be the opposite of chemical engineering research. It involves the visual combinations of color, texture and shape and the physical manipulation of fabric. Of course project management and mechanical equipment maintenance are important elements. So are safety, particularly hand safety and ergonomics. Mary Kathryn Lee


My hobby is pottery, and there are many ways that my ChemE professional skills have helped. I keep detailed lists of the items that I make including the underglazes and glazes uses. I don't consciously think of design of experiments when I'm testing different combinations, but I can tell that it influences my approach. The chemistry of the glazes is also something that draws on my background even if I have to pull out reference books. Jean Cronin


I think gardening is a good hobby.  You have to plan for good facilities, buy starting materials, and try to grow the beautiful mixture of color and texture you dreamed of. There are always improvements.  Plants must be moved to a better location, and some plants just really don't play well together.  Over the years, you step back and work on the portfolio - what you are going to do over winter, so that you can "scale up" the beauty over time. Annette Johnston

Yogurt and maple syrup

I make yogurt and I was making sourdough bread before it became a fad. Making the little bugs grow until it's time to eat them, dead or alive, counts as a hobby that has chemical engineering all over it. You have to think about equipment and instrumentation choices, how you're going to make sure the temperatures are steady and even, and how you will know when stages in the process have been met. Kirsten Rosselot

Early spring in Michigan means maple syrup season. I have built a small maple syrup production process. My neighbors and family all gather together to help out. Over the years, I have applied my knowledge of combustion, heat transfer, mass transfer, level/temperature controls, reverse osmosis, and filtration. I have even modeled the physical properties so I can have reference plots to relate boiling point to sugar concentration. To the untrained eye my process looks like a hot fire with a vigorously boiling pan of water. When people ask questions about how it works, they tend to get more of an explanation than they were looking for. Derick Badgley

Home brewing

The use of yeast as one of the most critical elements of brewing is fascinating to me. Understanding the different growth conditions favored by different strains, the different flavor profiles created by the different yeasts, harvesting and propagating yeasts after they complete their work, etc., are definitely considerations that are pretty well aligned with the skills of chemical engineers. Andrew Riederer

Woodworking and carpentry

The hobby I’m passionate about is woodworking. All the training I’ve received, both academic and on the job, around solving problems has proven invaluable. While executing just about any woodworking project, one ALWAYS encounters unanticipated situations. Few populations are trained in problem solving techniques as well as ChEs. Taking a methodical approach to assessing the situation, thinking out-of-the-box with what options are at hand, and then picking the approach most likely to yield the desired result with minimal unwanted side effects is pure ChE. Love it. Victor Rice

I enjoy building with wood — shelves, a deck (that was a family construction project that also pulled in our civil engineering friends in the early stages), a playhouse. I like figuring out how all the parts will fit together, and especially the tangible and physical process of cutting, assembling, and having an actual physical macroscopic thing at the end. Valerie Young

Do you also have some hobbies you'd like to share? Contribute to the discussion.