A Vision of the Chemical Engineering Curriculum of the Future


  • Robert C. Armstrong Massachusetts Institute of Technology


A dramatic shift in chemical engineering undergraduate education is envisioned, based on discipline-wide workshop discussions that have taken place over the last two years. Faculty from more than 53 universities and industry representatives from 19 companies participated. Through this process broad consensus has been developed regarding basic principles for chemical engineering undergraduate education in the future; these principles address fundamental knowledge, skills and attributes, and methods of engagement with the students. From these principles a new set of organizing principles emerged for the discipline: molecular transformations, broadly interpreted to include chemical and biological systems and physical as well as chemical structural changes; multiscale analysis, from sub-molecular through super-macroscopic scales for physical, chemical, and biological systems; and a systems approach, addressed to all scales and supplying tools to deal with dynamics, complexity, uncertainty, and external factors. The curriculum integrates all organizing principles and basic supportive sciences throughout the educational sequence and moves from simple to complex. The curriculum is consistently infused with relevant and demonstrative laboratory experiences, and opportunities for teaming experiences and use of communication skills (written and oral) are included throughout. The curriculum is also designed so as to address different learning styles and to include a first-year chemical engineering experience. Finally an important theme is the widespread use of relevant and demonstrative examples, which provide open-ended problems and case studies and supply frequent integrative opportunities for students.

Author Biography

Robert C. Armstrong, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Robert C. Armstrong is Chevron Professor and head of the Department of Chemical Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He received a B.ChE. from the Georgia Institute of Technology in 1970, and a Ph.D. in chemical engineering from the University of Wisconsin in 1973. His research interests lie in the areas of polymer molecular theory, polymer fluid mechanics, rheology, multiscale process modeling, transport phenomena, and applied mathematics. He is co-author of the two-volume text Dynamics of Polymeric Liquids, which has been named a Citation Classic.