(78g) Chemical Engineering ‘on-a-Chip’: Capturing the Integrated Scope of Chemical Engineering in a Single STEM Module

Schultz, K. - Presenter, Lehigh University
Snyder, M. A. - Presenter, Lehigh University
Unlike other engineering disciplines, such as electrical or mechanical engineering, where the scope of study and career paths are clear, the skill sets, impact and contributions of chemical engineers (ChEs) and the broad spectrum of jobs that they hold tend to be poorly understood. Specifically, there exists a persistent struggle to differentiate ChEs from chemists, and a failure to grasp how ChEs leverage all of the basic sciences for designing processes capable of transforming matter into new valuable products. This can present challenges for recruiting students into the study of chemical engineering. Yet, the same complexity that makes the chemical engineering discipline and its impact difficult to grasp also challenges educational initiatives aimed at conveying, in a single module, a sufficient representation of its scope. While chemical engineers often think about challenges associated with process scale-up, demonstration of large-scale process integration within the confines of the STEM laboratory can be logistically challenging and costly. As a viable alternative, the involvement of chemical engineers in process scale-down—for example, in the design of molecular sensors, miniaturized devices for health assays and drug discovery, or chemical plants on-a-chip—provides an attractive basis for developing cost-effective, yet impactful ChE-based STEM modules.

In this talk, we will describe a hands-on educational module created to illustrate the full scope of chemical engineering.1 Students are taught fundamental concepts that they integrate in a laboratory experience involving designing and fabricating a ‘plant-on-a-chip’ microfluidic device capable of continuous processing of reactive flows. Students gain insight into ChE principles in the context of process scale-down, including extracting and extending reaction kinetics from bench to microfluidic-scale while accounting for the need for enhanced mixing within laminar fluid flow. This integration of ChE fundamentals offers insight into chemical engineering process design principles that are commonly challenging to capture in single STEM modules. The active nature of this learning module teaches students about real challenges faced by chemical engineers in their work environment, effectively educating students about the vastness and impact of the discipline and aiding in the recruitment of students into the discipline.


1. K.M. Schultz and M.A. Snyder, "Chemical Engineering 'On-a-Chip': Capturing the integrated scope of chemical engineering in STEM outreach," invited article, under revision, Chemical Engineering Education (CEE) (2018).