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Introduction To Chemical Engineering Computing

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2005 Annual Conference


Portland, Oregon

Publication Date

June 12, 2005

Start Date

June 12, 2005

End Date

June 15, 2005



Conference Session

Innovation in ChE Teaching

Page Count


Page Numbers

10.833.1 - 10.833.16



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Paper Authors

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Bruce Finlayson

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Introduction to Chemical Engineering Computing

Bruce A. Finlayson Rehnberg Professor of Chemical Engineering University of Washington


Chemical engineers need to learn to use computer programs in order to do their assignments in school and be technically competent when they graduate. In the past, computer proficiency was obtained hit or miss, with too many students in the ‘miss’ category. An elective course was established in the Department of Chemical Engineering and given in Winter quarter, 2003, 2004, and 2005, to give beginning juniors a broad introduction to computers. They had already taken a computer science course their freshman year, so the new course concentrated on chemical engineering applications. This paper describes the course and gives a quantitative assessment of its impact in the Chemical Reactor Design class.

Course Description

The Department of Chemical Engineering at the University of Washington uses Excel, Matlab, Simulink, AspenPlus, and FEMLAB. This paper describes a course introducing students to these programs, except for Simulink that is introduced in Process Control. For each topic (see Table I), a lecture hour outlined the method used to solve a class of problems and demonstrated specific techniques to do so. A handout gave the details each week. Then in the laboratory hour following, students worked in pairs to solve problems like those solved in class. In this hour they applied the techniques, and solved an interesting chemical engineering problem with the help of seniors who served as assistants. The laboratory problem was not turned in, and group work was allowed and encouraged. After the laboratory, a problem of the same type was assigned, and this problem was solved individually. The solution to this problem was checked. If the solution was incorrect, corrections and suggestions were given so that students could redo the problem. This was a great incentive to complete the assignments correctly, since homework with errors had to be corrected or it wouldn’t count. (This is similar to real engineering work - you have to do it and redo it until it is right. No one wants the bridge to fall down, or the reactor to explode.) Credit was given to those students who (a) attended class and (b) turned in correct assignments of 8 of the 10 assignments. In the 2004 and latest, 2005, version of the course, a CoursePak was provided with worked examples and discussion2.

One philosophy that permeates the course is: learn to check your work! Many problems being solved today in industry are intractable with analytical methods. That is due to the widespread availability of desktop and laptop computers, but even more so due to the sophisticated software available today. Thus, engineers will probably be solving a problem that no one knows the answer to, and it is their job to insure the problem is posed correctly on paper

Proceedings of the 2005 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition Copyright © 2005, American Society for Engineering Education

Finlayson, B. (2005, June), Introduction To Chemical Engineering Computing Paper presented at 2005 Annual Conference, Portland, Oregon. 10.18260/1-2--15122

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