Chemical Engineering

Current Initiatives

Design in the Curriculum

The Professional Practitioner Model

Design, whether for laying out a chemical plant to produce methacrylate, developing an emulsion polymerization reactor, minimizing the amount of catalyst required in a fuel cell electrode or developing a biomedical sensor, is the point at which engineers apply their knowledge to address societal and business needs. For students, it is the process where they pull together the elements of chemical engineering or engineering chemistry to solve problems, and the point at which they must define the problem to be solved in the first place.

The Chemical Engineering department at Queen's has pioneered imaginative and creative capstone courses, most of which involve students working on industrial problems. Moreover, design in the curriculum is taught, and mentored, by an effective team of professional engineers with considerable industrial experience - "professional practitioners" - and regular professors in the department. Each brings considerable expertise to the design elements in the program - experience in defining, scoping, preliminary design and detailed final design, and specialized knowledge in areas such as control, polymerization or fermentation.

The flagship of our design and professional practice initiative is the Technology Engineering and Management (TEAM) program. Conceived by Barrie Jackson, a distinguished engineer with 35 years experience with Shell throughout its international operations, TEAM is a course comprised of design and business elements. Originally conceived in the late 90s, TEAM has evolved to become a leader in industrial projects-based courses in Canada and internationally. Barrie received the Canadian Council of Professional Engineers gold medal for his pioneering efforts, and the initiative continues to be very successful today under the guidance of David Mody. David brings 17 years of design experience with Fluor-Daniel to his position, and has grown TEAM from 14 projects in 2005 to 24 projects currently.

Design is inherently applied, and is part science and part art. Because design is a creative art, it can only be fully developed in students by practice - by sitting down, defining problems, formulating solutions, testing them, and iterating to completion. Design is an ability that is strongly rooted in experience, which is why bringing in industrial practitioners to act as mentors and instructors for students, is central to building an effective design component in the curriculum. The professional (clinical) practice element has long been accepted in medical programs. Design - bringing together the needs of society and the solutions offered through effective application of technology - is the clinical component of engineering. Clinical programs in medicine are taught by teaching physicians, who balance a regular medical practice with teaching responsibilities. Engineering design will be most effectively taught by bringing engineers as mentors into the programs, who can share their experiences and approaches.

This professional design practice model falls outside the conventional structure for engineering schools in universities. Co-op programs might arguably integrate more industrial experience in their programs, however, this is still done in a segmented way, with students going out to work terms and returning. The approach that we have taken at Queen's is to integrate engineering design, taught by a combination of industrial practitioner professors and regular professors, throughout the curriculum.

TEAM is a concrete example of the professional practice design model, and it has been highly successful. Feedback from industrial clients is very positive, and the graduates from this course leave with a strong understanding of the interplay of engineering and business issues in design. TEAM also highlights the reality that moving to a design-based program with industrial projects and professional practitioner mentors is very resource intensive. These courses are best taught by having students work in small groups, each with an assigned mentor. The mentor to student ratio is much higher than in conventional lecture format courses, design materials have to be developed, and coordination of groups and mentors is vital. The outcome is a significantly better educational experience for students.

In 2005, Shell Canada generously donated $400,000 in support of the TEAM program - producing "TEAM empowered by Shell". This donation allowed us to increase the professional practitioner support for the course, develop new business projects and promotional materials, and bring in additional mentors to the support students in their projects.

The Province of Ontario, through their Ontario Centres of Excellence fund (and previously through Materials and Manufacturing Ontario), has been a consistent and generous supporter of this initiative, contributing in the order of $60K - $80K each year.

TEAM is strongly inter-disciplinary - students can be found in TEAM projects from Chemical Engineering, Mechanical Engineering, Law, Commerce, Arts, Biology, Environmental Studies, and Civil Engineering. Projects range from addressing production problems in manufacturing medical catheters to CO2 sequestration or biomass gasification to understanding the impact of hydroelectric dams on fish populations. Clients include Ontario Power Generation, DuPont, Shell, Imperial Oil, Cryocath, Covidien, and geographical locations span the globe - across Canada, Korea, Switzerland, the US.

Integrated Design Modules

Design is integrated in many forms throughout the curriculum. First year students solve design problems in APSC100 - the first year laboratory projects course. In Chemical Engineering and Engineering Chemistry, students will encounter design projects in many of the courses that they study. These design projects are typically open-ended projects, with a stated goal or objective, and a broad description of the problem. Previously, each of these design projects were incorporated stand-alone in their respective courses.

In 2007, we introduced an Integrated Design Module in third year to pull together the design projects in several courses: Reaction Engineering, Heat Transfer, and Thermodynamics II (phase and reaction equilibria). The module draws on class and tutorial time from each of these courses, and the design problem spans technical aspects from each course. Students work on a design problem in the way they really occur - across subject boundaries. This year's project has involved the design of a conversion process for producing hydrogen from syngas produced by a gasification process. The broader context for the project is the conversion of Edmonton municipal waste to hydrogen which can be used in fuel cells, or as a reactant for refinery or other chemical plant operations. Engineers from Shell Canada helped provide input to the project.

Dave Mody, Engineer-in-Residence who oversees design in the curriculum, spearheaded this initiative, and has worked with Keith Marchildon to develop the design problem and materials. Keith has more than 30 years experience with DuPont Canada, and is a recognized world expert in nylon production, have been awarded the distinction of being made a DuPont Fellow in recognition of his contributions and expertise. Keith has a strong and abiding interest in educating engineers, and can be regularly found around the Chemical Engineering department at Queen's.

The integration doesn't stop there - the integrated design module is in turn integrated with the communications courses, so that students can have realistic projects as the subject of technical reports and presentations.

Advancement Goals

Design in the curriculum is an essential initiative in our programs, and the manner in which design is integrated is a distinctive feature. These are expensive courses and modules to run, requiring professional engineering practitioners and extensive mentoring and coordination time. These initiatives fall outside the regular lecture format course structure, and the advancement goal is to move these to a permanent funding base from investment income generated by an endowment. In the interim, continued donations are very important to keep these initiatives going, and to ensure that they continue to evolve, seizing new opportunities and incorporating features to continue at the forefront of professional practice education.