Chemical Engineering

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The chemical engineering faculty teach and conduct research on fundamental chemical, biological, and transport processes and their application in understanding, designing, and controlling a broad spectrum of complex chemical, biochemical, and environmental processes.

The faculty and students utilize their analytical skills and laboratory resources to study diverse processes and to synthesize new materials. The combination of engineering principles, chemistry, biology, physics, and mathematics that characterizes chemical engineering at Caltech enables students and faculty to contribute to the solution of a wide range of critical problems and to aid in creating new areas of science and technology.

Chemical Engineering at Caltech has been ABET accredited since 1936.

Areas of Research

Many different research areas are offered to students seeking the degrees of Master of Science or Doctor of Philosophy in chemical engineering. Particular research fields emphasized in the department include the following:

Biological Design and Engineering - Engineering of proteins and metabolic pathways by computational and laboratory evolution approaches. Biocatalysis for sustainable "green" production of pharmaceuticals and specialty chemicals. Engineering organisms to convert biomass to fuels and chemicals.

Fluid Mechanics and Transport Processes - Mechanics of polymeric liquids, microstructured fluids, colloidal dispersions, and suspensions and granular media. Transport in heterogeneous media.

Polymer Physics and Chemistry - Molecular understanding of polymer melt rheology. Optical properties of polymer blends. Dynamic modeling of polymer structure and rheology. Synthesis of tailored polymers by chemical and biological means.

Biomaterials - Synthesis and properties of organic materials designed for use in living systems. Therapeutic modification of existing systems.

Cellular Engineering - Quantitative analysis and redesign of molecular events governing cell behavior.

Catalysis and Biocatalysis - Synthesis of molecular sieves and organic-inorganic hybrid materials. Synthesis of inorganic membranes for gas separations and catalysis. Biological routes to the synthesis of chemicals.

Complex networks of reactions, cell, and organisms - Studies of microbial communities in environment and interactions of microbial communities with their human host.

Microfluidics - Science of single molecules, crystals, and cells. Fundamental studies of fluid flow and interfacial phenomena. Applications to diagnostic and therapeutic problems in Global Health.

Electronic Materials and Devices - Plasma processing of semiconductors, pattern etching and deposition. Modeling and simulation of pattern-dependent effects. Chemical reaction dynamics of plasma-surface interactions.

Microplasmas - Sources of reactive radicals and ions at high pressures. Microreactors for gas conversion/pollutant destruction. Synthesis of nanocrystals. VUV-excimer radiation emitters.

Nanotechnology - Aerosol synthesis of nanoparticles for micro- electronic and photovoltaic applications. Nanoprobes, nanomechanics, nanofluidics. Crystallization in carbon nanotube cavities. Synthesis and characterization of quantum dots and nanostructural materials. Environmental consequences of nanotechnology.

Environmental Chemical Engineering - Physics and chemistry of atmospheric gases and aerosols, bioaerosols, climate change.

Aerosols and Colloids - Nucleation and growth of particles. Particle formation and reactions. Structure and properties of colloidal dispersions. Aerosol and colloidal particle characterization.

Applied Mathematics and Computational Physics - Supercomputer applications in fluid mechanics and environmental modeling. Concurrent computing. Asymptotic analyses of transport processes.

Physics of Complex Fluid - Structures, phase transitions, and dynamics of polymers, liquid crystals, surfactant solutions, and suspensions.

Materials for Energy Technologies - Electrochemistry of fuel cells. Ion transport through solids. Design of thermoelectric materials.

Physical Facilities

The chemical engineering laboratories, mainly housed in the Eudora Hull Spalding Laboratory of Engineering and the Warren and Katharine Schlinger Laboratory for Chemistry and Chemical Engineering, are well equipped. The facilities include experimental reactors, computational facilities, NMR spectrometers, and numer- ous special research equipment for molecular simulations, DNA synthesis, and electronic, optical, and chemical measurements.

Research at the frontiers of modern chemical engineering requires sophisticated experimental instrumentation for observing the state and the dynamics of molecules, particles, cells, surfaces, and flows. Major experimental facilities in the department include a 300-MHz wide-bore nuclear magnetic resonance spectrometer, a Raman spectrometer, X-ray diffraction facilities, vacuum systems, infrared spectrometers, gas chromatographs, mass spectrometers, thermogravimetric analysis systems, a materials testing system capable of the simultaneous measurement of dynamic stress, deformation, birefringence, and infrared dichroism in polymers, and a mercury porosimeter for the synthesis and characterization of catalysts, sorbents, and ceramic materials, and for related kinetic studies.

Additional major instrumentation is readily available in other nearby laboratories on the compact Caltech campus. For example, departmental research groups currently use scanning and transmission electron microscopes, a high-performance XRD system, two 500-MHz NMR spectrometers, Raman and electron spin resonance spectrometers, and a microchemical facility for DNA synthesis.

Computational facilities at Caltech are among the best available anywhere. In addition to numerous desktop workstations in the department, students have access to supercomputers at the San Diego Supercomputer Center and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, as well as parallel supercomputers at the Caltech Concurrent Supercomputer Facility. Caltech also organized the Concurrent Supercomputing Consortium (CSC), and is the home of the CSC's new Intel Delta supercomputer, as of this writing the world's most powerful computer.