In its undergraduate laboratories, the chemical engineering option offers inquiry-based laboratory courses primarily for juniors and seniors, providing a supportive and one-of-a-kind development environment for students to design systems that achieve desired objectives and satisfy customer requirements, subject to constraints. Faculty, staff or students identify open-ended capstone projects that integrate multiple fundamental topics from core chemical engineering courses, and then student teams complete a stage-gate development process to define, design, build, test, and refine their systems.
Some laboratory courses are intended for all undergraduates in chemical engineering, regardless of their track, while other lab courses are designed for students in specific tracks (biomolecular, environmental, materials, or process systems). All laboratory courses are offered in one of two locations, providing undergraduates with 2,000-square feet of dedicated lab space and access to state-of-the-art equipment.
Undergraduate Laboratory for Molecular Engineering
Location: 122 Spalding
Lab Manager: Michael Vicic
The Undergraduate Laboratory for Molecular Engineering, located in room 122 of the Eudora Hull Spalding Laboratory of Engineering, is approximately 940 square feet with 10 work areas: four group work benches, two hoods and four standard bench spaces. This laboratory, renovated in 2004 through the generous donations of Joyce and Ed McDowell (MS 60 ChE; PhD 64 ChE) and Greg Stone (BS, MS 74 ChE), is typically used for three advanced laboratory classes for chemical engineering undergraduates (ChE 120, ChE 126, ChE 128) -- one course each term.
In these courses, undergraduates have recently identified, designed and built the following products and processes: a chemical leak detector that prevents explosions in fertilizer plants in Texas; a greener method to effectively clean oil spills in the Gulf of Mexico; a plasma-based reactor that converts landfill gas into hydrogen for fuel cells; a kitchen appliance for restaurants to convert leftover food into fuel for gas grills; a wearable air cleaner so bicyclists can exercise and race on smoggy days; a solar-powered water-purification system so California's coastal farmers can use ocean water to irrigate crops; a device to capture thermal energy from desert roads; and much more.
This laboratory is also the home of chemical engineering's Transportable Hub for Exploring/Learning Engineering and Applied Design (THE/LEAD). Deployed in Fall 2012 and made possible through the generous donations of Joyce and Ed McDowell (MS 60 ChE; PhD 64 ChE) and Caltech's Innovation in Education Fund, THE/LEAD is a portable design center that integrates critical tools -- a combination of hardware and software -- providing students easy access to: a 3D printer; portable workstations with relevant software, including computer-aided drawing (SolidWorks) and computational fluid dynamics (COMSOL); microcontrollers; hundreds of components to measure and/or control temperature, flow, composition, concentration, forces, etc.; a 3D scanner; and much more.
Undergraduate Laboratory for Biomolecular Engineering
Location: 16 Braun
Lab Manager: Michael Vicic
The Undergraduate Laboratory for Biomolecular Engineering, located in the basement of Braun Laboratory (room 16), is approximately 1020 square feet with 20 work areas -- 12 standard bench areas, two hoods and six instrument stations -- with walk-in cold room, adjacent conference room and microscopy center. This laboratory, which opened in 2009, is home to only one advanced laboratory class in chemical engineering (ChE 130), allowing courses in other options to share space and equipment, including bioengineering (BE/APh 162 in winter) and biology (Bi1x in spring).
In ChE 130, students have recently designed biological systems that: more effectively find and treat cancerous tumors; generate libraries to optimize expression levels; improve the purity of various metabolites; more effectively control cell growth; and much more.
In addition to using DNA Engine Multi-Bay Thermal Cyclers (BioRad) and gel electrophoresis stations, students also routinely use computers and proprietary software to control and acquire data from a dual-monochromator, multi-detection microplate reader (Spectramax M2) and a gel imaging station (Bio-Rad Gel Doc XR). Although not housed within the lab space, students also have access to the following equipment on as as-needed basis: (1) a flow cytometer (MoFlo XTD) with high-speed cell counter (Beckman Coulter) through an arrangement with Prof. David Tirrell's research group and made possible by a grant from The Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI); (2) a flow cytometer (Beckman Coulter, Cell Lab Quanta SPC), which is currently located in 122 Spalding and was purchased with HHMI funds; and (3) HPLC (Agilent) through a rental agreement with Caltech's Environmental Analysis Center.