Chemical engineering is a driving force behind the progress and innovation that have shaped the world as we know it and continue to exert a massive influence today. Strangely enough, it is one of the youngest but also one of the most popular disciplines in science and engineering. It is also somewhat unique in the sense that it integrates the studies of chemistry and physics in order to understand the industrial mechanisms of chemical production. The purpose of chemical engineering is to discover methods of designing, creating, and transforming materials. Chemical engineering covers a very wide range of possibilities; meaning that it is exceptionally diverse practice that is fundamental to countless different applications. Two individuals who had a large impact in this field include George E. Davis and Norbert Rillieux. 

George E. Davis (1850-1906)


There is no better place to start the list than with the very man whom has been credited as a patriarch of the field. Davis was educated at the Slough Mechanics Institute and the Royal School of Mines in London before moving north to Manchester to work in the chemical industry. He held several different positions early in his career and was a founding member of the Society of Chemical Industry, although Davis would have rather named it the Society of Chemical Engineering. In 1887, he delivered a 12-part series of lectures at Manchester School of Technology; which would constitute the bulk of his two volume book set titled “The Handbook of Chemical Engineering”. Prior to this point, there were books written for each individual set of the chemical industry; but Davis’ work was more common to many different industries. He carefully explained his theories and gave practical examples of how they would play out in the manufacturing process. This revolutionary new piece of work was the first of its kind and paved the way for an entirely new brand of engineering.

Norbert Rillieux (1806-1894)


Norbert Rillieux is considered to be a trailblazer on the path to chemical engineering. He changed sugar processing forever when he invented the multiple effect evaporator under vacuum. Rillieux came to the conclusion that the repeated use of latent heat at a reduced pressure will result in the production of high-quality sugar, but at a lower cost. His technique is hailed as perhaps the best method for decreasing the temperature of industrial evaporation, as well as for conserving fuel. After displaying a strong interest in engineering at a young age; he traveled to France to attend the the École Centrale, a prestigious engineering school. Most of his work was centered around the study of the repeated use of latent heat in steam and vapors. Rillieux is known as one of the most respected chemical engineers in the country.

Chemical Engineering and The Future

Chemical engineers are changing our world with fascinating processes and ideas. These talented individuals are utilizing their understanding of chemicals and chemical reactions to accomplish outstanding feats. What do you think the future of chemical engineering holds?