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The Vertical Integration Of Design In Chemical Engineering

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1999 Annual Conference


Charlotte, North Carolina

Publication Date

June 20, 1999

Start Date

June 20, 1999

End Date

June 23, 1999



Page Count


Page Numbers

4.547.1 - 4.547.22

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Paper Authors

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Ronald J. Gatehouse

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John R. McWhirter

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George J., Jr. Selembo

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

Session 2213

The Vertical Integration of Design in Chemical Engineering Ronald J. Gatehouse, George J. Selembo Jr., and John R. McWhirter The Pennsylvania State University


The purpose of this project is to better prepare chemical engineering students for their senior design course and for industry by exposing them to more design-oriented problems much earlier in their undergraduate careers. The feature that distinguishes engineering from the purely theoretical sciences is that of synthesis. Any meaningful synthesis requires two basic components, one that arises from the order of our scientific knowledge and another that arises from the spontaneous thought of the individual performing the synthesis. Until now, the undergraduate chemical engineering curriculum at Penn State University has focused almost entirely on the former; this project requires students to recognize the latter. Two entire chemical process plants have been divided into several design projects to be used in the core undergraduate chemical engineering courses, and each design project requires that the students use concepts learned in a given chemical engineering course (e.g. heat transfer, mass transfer, kinetics, etc.) to arrive at a fully specified design. The students will follow the same or similar chemical process plants throughout their undergraduate careers so that, by the end, they will understand many of the details of designing the plant without losing focus of the ultimate goal of the process. Most importantly, however, at some point in the project they will have to make some of their own decisions. There will be more than one way to attack the problem, and the students will have to make appropriate assumptions, research several alternatives, use common sense and think both logically and physically in order to arrive at a practical solution. If this project accomplishes its goal, the chemical engineering curriculum at Penn State University will take a step away from being a mere extension of theoretical science and a step toward being an actual preparation for a career in thoughtful problem-solving and design.

1 Introduction

Like many of its counterparts across the country, the Chemical Engineering program at Penn State University provides undergraduate students with a solid background in the theoretical aspects of the chemical engineering discipline. Students learn fundamentals in a series of six core courses and then are asked to apply this knowledge in a capstone design course where they design a full-scale chemical production facility. Although students typically have a relatively firm theoretical grasp of the relevant subject matter, the senior design course shows them they have been exposed to little or no design work throughout the curriculum. This deficiency leaves them overwhelmed at the prospect of developing a fully-specified chemical plant with only a product purity and demand specification to go on. The goal of the project described here is to enhance the current curriculum in order to better prepare students for this senior design course, which will in turn help them to better understand the application of chemical engineering knowledge in general.

Gatehouse, R. J., & McWhirter, J. R., & Selembo, G. J. J. (1999, June), The Vertical Integration Of Design In Chemical Engineering Paper presented at 1999 Annual Conference, Charlotte, North Carolina.

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