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Choosing Between Chemical Engineering and Bioengineering

Chemical engineering and bioengineering, also called biomedical engineering, overlap in some areas because they both create new technology and innovations for the healthcare industry. However, the two disciplines are very different. Here is a comparison of the two careers to help you choose the one that would be best for you.

What Does a Chemical Engineer Do?

A chemical engineer uses science to find solutions to problems, such as manufacturing issues for a food company. They can also work for pharmaceutical, chemical, science, petroleum, coal, oil, gas, trade, manufacturing and other companies.

They usually work in a laboratory or office setting. Sometimes they have to work in an industrial or chemical plant. Some chemical engineers work in the field, such as a refinery. The daily tasks of a chemical engineer can vary, but they usually include research and testing. They may develop new chemicals products, or they may create and test equipment.

photo of a chemical engineering lab setup

Sometimes chemical engineers can solve important problems that affect different aspects of people’s lives. For example, Líney Árnadóttir is a chemical engineering associate professor who studies chemical processes on different surfaces to try to uncover how and why materials degrade.

Árnadóttir and other researchers used supercomputers to study chloride’s role in corrosion. Chemical engineers sometimes use technology, such as the supercomputers at the San Diego Supercomputer Center and the Texas Advanced Computing Center, to do their work and solve problems. By understanding how chloride affects materials like steel, the researchers can help companies, manufacturers and the environment deal with corrosion better.

What Is Bioengineering?

Bioengineering is a field that uses engineering to study and design biomedical technology and systems. A bioengineer usually works in healthcare. They frequently make new medical devices, equipment, software, computer systems and other products to help people.

Bioengineers can create new laboratory machines to diagnose medical problems or artificial organs to replace the ones in a person. It is possible for a bioengineer to find work in a laboratory, research center, manufacturing facility, hospital or university. Some bioengineers work for large companies and help them develop new products.

Every time you go to a doctor’s office or hospital you are seeing examples of bioengineering. When you need an MRI or CT scan, you are using technology built by bioengineers. If you need a hip replacement or a new knee, you are also benefiting from the designs created by bioengineers.

What Type of Qualifications Does Each Require?

In addition to studying engineering and chemistry, a chemical engineer must study math, biology and physics. As a student, you may have to study science topics like engineering computation or chemical engineering thermodynamics. A strong science and math background is important for becoming a chemical engineer. Many pursue a master’s degree after their bachelor’s degree.

A chemical engineer has to be a good problem solver. They have to look at a process or design and figure out how to make it work. They also have to fix it and figure out why it is not working when problems develop. Creativity is essential for this career.

A bioengineer must study engineering, biology and medical science. Additional topics studied by bioengineers include: genetics, computational biology and cell biology. Bioengineers will also must study math and other subjects during college. Many choose to pursue a master’s in biomedical engineering after earning their bachelor’s.

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Creating Low-cost Construction Materials Using Recycled Plastic Waste

Nzambi Matee is a materials engineer and head of Gjenge Makers (in Kenya), which produces sustainable low-cost construction materials made of recycled plastic waste and sand. For her work, Nzambi Matee was recently named a Young Champions of the Earth by the United Nations Environment Programme.

Building blocks for a greener Nairobi

Through trial and error, she and her team learned that some plastics bind together better than others. Her project was given a boost when Matee won a scholarship to attend a social entrepreneurship training programme in the United States of America. With her paver samples packed in her luggage, she used the material labs in the University of Colorado Boulder to further test and refine the ratios of sand to plastic.

It is wonderful to see young people using an understanding of engineering to find ways to improve the world. Taking waste plastic and creating usable products will help reduce pollution and create a better world. We need quite a bit of effort to deal with plastic waste, so I look forward to learning about many more ideas turned into practical solutions in the real world.

Related: Cleaning Up the Plastic Pollution in Our OceansPedal Powered Washing MachineProtecting Cows with Lion LightsDrone Deliveries to Hospitals in Rwanda

I Just Finished Statistics for Experimenters and I Cannot Praise it Enough

Guest post by Michael Betancourt.

I just finished Box, Hunter, and Hunter (Statistics for Experimenters) and I cannot praise it enough. There were multiple passages where I literally giggled. In fact I may have been a bit too enthusiastic about tagging quotes beyond “all models are wrong but some are useful” that I can’t share them all.

photo of Statistics for Experimenters with many blue bookmarks shown

I wish someone had shared this with me when I was first learning statistics instead of the usual statistics textbooks that treat model development as an irrelevant detail. So many of the elements that make this book are extremely relevant to statistics today. Some examples:

  • The perspective of learning from data only through the lens of the statistical model. The emphasis on sequential modeling, using previous fits to direct better models, and sequential experiments, using past fits to direct better targeted experiments.
  • The fixation on checking model assumptions, especially with interpretable visual diagnostics that capture not only residuals but also meaningful scales of deviation. Proto visual predictive checks as I use them today.
  • The distinction between empirical models and mechanistic models, and the treatment of empirical linear models as Taylor expansions of mechanistic models with covariates as _deviations_ around some nominal value. Those who have taken my course know how important I think this is.
  • The emphasis that every model, even mechanistic models, are approximations and should be treated as such.
  • The reframing of frequentist statistical tests as measures of signal to noise ratios.
  • The importance of process drift and autocorrelation in data when experimental configurations are not or cannot be arbitrarily randomized.
  • The diversity of examples and exercises using real data from real applications with detailed contexts, including units everywhere.

Really the only reason why I wouldn’t recommend this as an absolute must read is that the focus on linear models and use of frequentist methods does limit the relevance of the text to contemporary Bayesian applications a bit.

Texts like these make me even more frustrated by the desire to frame movements like data science as revolutions that give people the justification to ignore the accumulated knowledge of applied statisticians.

Academic statistics has no doubt largely withdrawn into theory with increasingly smaller overlap with applications, but there is so much relevant wisdom in older applied statistics texts like these that doesn’t need to be rediscovered just reframed in a contemporary context.

Oh, I forgot perhaps the best part! BHH continuously emphasizes the importance of working with domain experts in the design and through the entire analysis with lots of anecdotal examples demonstrating how powerful that collaboration can be.

I felt so much less alone every time they talked about experimental designs not being implemented properly andthe subtle effects that can have in the data, and serious effects in the resulting inferences, if not taken into account.

Michael Betancourt, PhD, Applied Statistician – long story short, I am a once and future physicist currently masquerading as a statistician in order to expose the secrets of inference that statisticians have long kept from scientists. More seriously, my research focuses on the development of robust statistical workflows, computational tools, and pedagogical resources that bridge statistical theory and practice and enable scientists to make the most out of their data.
Twitter: @betanalpha
Website: betanalpha
Patreon: Michael Betancourt

Related: Statistics for Experimenters, Second EditionStatistics for Experimenters in SpanishStatistics for Experimenters ReviewCorrelation is Not Causation

Popular Posts on the Curious Cat Science and Engineering Blog in the Last Decade

These were the most popular (by number of page views) posts on our blog in the last decade.

photo of John Hunter with snow covered mountain peaks in the background

John Hunter, Olympic National Park (where the mountain peaks are colder and covered in snow)

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Appropriate Technology: a Microscope and Centrifuge for Under $1

Malaria is estimated to have killed more than half the people that have ever lived. And it continues to kill millions. One big challenge is diagnosing malaria is difficult (those infected have flu like symptoms).

The video shows two great appropriate technology solutions to help diagnose malaria and save millions of lives. Manu Prakash from Stanford talks about 2 of his labs’ inventions the Foldscope and the Paperfuge. Combined these cost only 68 cents and they can be used to diagnose Malaria. Both of these are examples not only of simple, brilliant design, but of how engineering is used to make a positive dent in the world.

Read more about the Paperfuge: an ultra-low cost, hand-powered centrifuge inspired by the mechanics of a whirligig toy (open access paper).

This solution also shows the huge benefit people everywhere have gained when immigrants can take their skills and desires to institutions like Stanford to create solutions that greatly benefit the world. This powerful force has been creating huge benefits that we all have enjoyed for decades.

Related: Appropriate Technology and Focus on Improving Lives at MIT (2014)$1 Device To Give Throat Cancer Patients Their Voice Again (2016)Video showing malaria breaking into cell (2011)Engineering: Cellphone Microscope (2009)One Scientists 20 Year Effort to Defeat Dengue Fever (2012)

20 Most Popular Post on the Curious Cat Science and Engineering Blog in 2018

These were the most popular (by number of page views) posts on our blog in 2018.

Red-tailed hawk with squirrel

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Scientists and Engineers in Congress After the Recent Elections in the USA

The recent elections in the USA added to those serving in congress with STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) backgrounds.

USA Capital Building

US Capital Building in Washington DC by John Hunter.

Here is a list of elected representatives in the USA congress with science, technology, engineering and math backgrounds (after the 2018 election).

Name State BS Notes Link
Ralph Abraham Louisiana MD bio
Ami Bera California biological sciences MD bio
Tony Cárdenas California electrical engineering bio
Sen. Bill Cassidy Louisiana biochemistry MD bio
Sean Casten Illinois molecular biology and biochemistry MS biochemical engineering and engineering management, 2018* bio
Chris Collins New York mechanical engineering bio
Joe Cunningham South Carolina ocean engineering 2018* bio
Jeff Van Drew New Jersey D.D.S. (Dentist), 2018* bio
Bill Foster Illinois physics PhD physics bio
Brett Guthrie Virginia mathematical economics bio
Sen. Martin Heinrich New Mexico mechanical engineering bio
Kevin Hern Oklahoma electro-mechanical engineering 2018* bio
Chrissy Houlahan Pennsylvania engineering MS technology and policy, 2018* bio
Joe Kennedy III Massachusetts management science and engineering bio
Ted Lieu California computer science bio
Name State BS Notes Link
Dan Lipinski Illinois mechanical engineering engineering-economic systems (MS) bio
Elaine Luria Virginia physics masters in engineering management, 2018* bio
Jerry McNerney California mathematics PhD bio
Seth Moulton Massachusetts physics bio
Pete Olson Texas computer science (BA)
Sen. Jacky Rosen Nevada psychology associat’s degree in computing and information technology
Raul Ruiz California MD, 2018* bio
Brad Schneider Illinois industrial engineering bio
Kurt Schrader Oregon Dr. of Veterinary Medicine bio
Kim Schrier Washington astrophysics MD, 2018* bio
John M. Shimkus Illinois general engineering bio
Paul Tonko New York mechanical and industrial engineering bio
Lauren Underwood Illinois nursing MS in Nursing and Master of Public Health, 2018* bio
Steve Watkins Kansas engineering 2018* bio



Those with notes including “2018*” means they were newly elected to the congress in 2018.

Please send any information on possible additions to this list (see the continually updated list).

Related: Scientific Research Spending Cuts in the USA and Increases Overseas are Tempting Scientists to Leave the USA (2013)The Science Gap and the EconomyScientists and engineers in the USA Congress in 2008 (scroll down the page to see 2008) – Diplomacy and Science ResearchUnless We Take Decisive Action, Climate Change Will Ravage Our Planet (2009)Silicon Valley Shows the Power of Global Science and Technology Workforce

Protecting Cows with Lion Lights

It is wonderful to see what great things people accomplish to improve their lives using sensible, and fairly simple, engineering.

15 Year-Old Kenyan Prodigy, Richard Turere, Who Created “Lion Lights”

He fitted a series of flashing LED bulbs onto poles around the livestock enclosure, facing outward. The lights were wired to a box with switches and to an old car battery powered by a solar panel. They were designed to flicker on and off intermittently, thus tricking the lions into believing that someone was moving around carrying a flashlight.

The astonishing aspect of this is that Turere installed the whole system by himself, without receiving any training in electronics or engineering.

This is a great video which includes good examples of the value to experimenting, learning and adapting. Iteration is a critical skill when developing solutions. Try out prototypes and learn from what happens. Use that knowledge to develop new solutions or modify the existing solutions and experiment some more. Continue to iterate and improve.

This is another great example of people using their initiative, creativity and engineering talent to create appropriate technology solutions to create solutions that improve their lives. It is great to see how these efforts continue over time, this BBC article follows up on Richard Turere several years after his initial success:

What happened to the boy who chased away the lions?

The Lion Lights system is now in 750 homesteads in Richard’s community and beyond, with the innovator making small tweaks and improvements to each version.

Lion Lights 2.0 costs $200 (£150) to install. Half of the money usually comes from NGOs while the rest is provided by the herder.

This version has 16 different flashing light settings and Richard’s latest update is a homemade wind turbine for days when clouds limit the solar power potential.

But while his idea has travelled, support for Richard as a young innovator and the implementation of his own Lion Lights has stalled in recent years. He thinks Kenya could do more to help young innovators like himself.

“There are many young people in Kenya with brilliant ideas, better even than mine – they just need support,” he says.

They need someone to be there to tell them, “this idea is really nice., let’s develop it to help communities”.

The efforts of so many great young people to create solutions that make the world a better place are inspiring.

Related: Electric WindBeehive Fence Protects Farms from ElephantsAppropriate Technology and Focus on Improving Lives at MITUsing The Building of Robots to Engage Students in Learning

Growing Citrus in the Snow

The system uses the constant ground temperature 2.5 meters (8 feet) below ground to heat a greenhouse. The underground-temperature on his farm is 11 degrees (52 degrees Fahrenheit). Other nearby areas range from 9 to 17 degrees (17 is near a hot spring).

Just circulating air through 64 meters (210 feet) of tubing buried 2.5 meters underground is enough to allow citrus and other plants to thrive. Selling at local farmer’s markets brings in a very high profit for farmers that can grow and sell locally.

Using the power of the sun to grow and the constant ground temperature to keep the air warm enough creates an opportunity to grow all year round. The same principles can be used to cool down indoor temperatures in very hot locations near the equator.

Due to the controlled environment growing organically is easy so that further increases the payoff for this type of farming.

The cost of the system can be as low as $25,000 if you have access to a backhoe to dig the trenches for the air pipes and can do much of the labor yourself. That is the cost of just the heating systems for a conventional greenhouse.

I really like this type of intersection of engineering and business (as well as environment and health benefits – providing healthy local food) that creates value to society by using our knowledge effectively.

Learn more at Citrus in the Snow. The Nebraska farmer (seen in the video) has been growing Citrus in Nebraska this way since 1992.

Related: Sustainable Ocean FarmingBeehive Fence Protects Farms from ElephantsFor Many Crops Ants Can Provide Pest Protection Superior or Equal to Chemicals at a Much Lower CostSmall Farm Robots

20 Most Popular Post on the Curious Cat Science and Engineering Blog in 2017

These were the most popular (by number of page views) posts on our blog in 2017.

Diagram of solar energy project using molton salt

molten salt solar system diagram

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Toyota’s Newest Humanoid Partner Robot

T-HR3 reflects Toyota’s broad-based exploration of how advanced technologies can help to meet people’s unique mobility needs. T-HR3 represents an evolution from previous generation instrument-playing humanoid robots, which were created to test the precise positioning of joints and pre-programmed movements, to a platform with capabilities that can safely assist humans in a variety of settings, such as the home, medical facilities, construction sites, disaster-stricken areas and even outer space.

“The Partner Robot team members are committed to using the technology in T-HR3 to develop friendly and helpful robots that coexist with humans and assist them in their daily lives. Looking ahead, the core technologies developed for this platform will help inform and advance future development of robots to provide ever-better mobility for all,” said Akifumi Tamaoki, General Manager, Partner Robot Division.

T-HR3 is controlled from a Master Maneuvering System that allows the entire body of the robot to be operated instinctively with wearable controls that map hand, arm and foot movements to the robot, and a head-mounted display that allows the user to see from the robot’s perspective. The system’s master arms give the operator full range of motion of the robot’s corresponding joints and the master foot allows the operator to walk in place in the chair to move the robot forward or laterally. The Self-interference Prevention Technology embedded in T-HR3 operates automatically to ensure the robot and user do not disrupt each other’s movements.

Onboard T-HR3 and the Master Maneuvering System, motors, reduction gears and torque sensors (collectively called Torque Servo Modules) are connected to each joint. These modules communicate the operator’s movements directly to T-HR3’s 29 body parts and the Master Maneuvering System’s 16 master control systems for a smooth, synchronized user experience.

Learn more on Toyota’s news site.

Related: Toyota Develops Thought-controlled Wheelchair (2009)Robots for Health Care from Toyota (2017)Toyota Human Support Robot (2012)Lexus Has Built a Working Hoverboard (2015)

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