A Day in the Life of a Junior Chemical Engineer

Before I get into my actual post, I feel the need to address the elephant in the room: Beer Bike (actually Beer Run due to weather) happened last weekend.

Caption: Part of the Martel family celebrating our victory

Part of the Martel family celebrating our victory

Now, onto my actual post. It occurred to me that some people might be curious to know what a typical day is like at Rice. Thus, I present to you a fairly normal Wednesday in the life of a junior chemical engineer. 

9:40 AM – I leave my apartment and bike to campus for morning classes: transport phenomena and thermodynamics. Today’s topics of discussion include mass transfer in pipes (who would have guessed that there would be so much to learn about stuff flowing through pipes?) and thermodynamic stability of mixtures.

12:00 PM – I head to Martel, my residential college, for lunch. I catch up with fellow Martelians and also try to be somewhat productive during this two-hour break from scheduled activities by checking on my protein simulation runs for research.

2:00 PM – Time for lab lecture! This is when we learn about the more practical things we need to know in the world of chemical engineering, such as technical writing and plant economics.

3:00 PM – I go with the other co-captains of the Rice ChemE Car Team to meet with our faculty advisor and show him what we have built so far. The team is working on building a model car powered and stopped by chemical reactions for a competition in which it has to stop some specified distance.

Our chemical powered car. It is powered by an electrochemical reaction between zinc and oxygen, and stopped by a color changing reaction between sodium thiosulfate and hydrochloric acid.

Our chemical powered car. It is powered by an electrochemical reaction between zinc and oxygen, and stopped by a color changing reaction between sodium thiosulfate and hydrochloric acid.

3:30 PM – I head to Fondren Library to work on a lab report with my two awesome lab partners. This week’s lab report is on different types of fluid flow meters and their accuracy at various fluid flow rates.

Circa 11:00 PM – Several hours and a lengthy dinner break later, we read through the report one last time before deciding that it is good to submit. We applaud ourselves for writing the entire report in less than two days, and I head home to finish up a short problem set before going to bed.

Owls + Chemistry = Owlchemy!

One of the best things I’ve gotten to do at Rice is volunteer with Owlchemy. What is Owlchemy, you ask? Owlchemy is a club for people who like chemistry and/or doing demonstrations. We do demos at various campus events and at the Houston Museum of Natural Science. I was first introduced to Owlchemy at the activities fair my freshman year when I saw them freezing flowers with liquid nitrogen and smashing them against a table. I decided to join them because I love chemistry, and doing demos seemed like fun. It was a great decision.

I’ve had the chance to work with an awesome group of people who love chemistry as much as I do. We have a lot of fun making bubbles with dry ice and dish soap, freezing ice cream with liquid nitrogen, and combusting gummy bears with potassium chlorate and talking about the chemistry behind the demos. Aside from getting to play around with really cool stuff like dry ice and liquid nitrogen (See what I did there?), doing chemistry demos for kids is a lot of fun. Kids get really amazed by the phenomena we show them, but more importantly, they really become interested in what we show them. Some of the older students who have had some chemistry in school even ask about how our demos relate to something they learned in school. As a chemical engineering major, I really love seeing young kids interested in and curious about science, and Owlchemy was the perfect place to channel my own passion for chemistry into getting kids interested in chemistry.

An elementary school student assists with a liquid nitrogen demo

Dry ice bubbles!