The chemical engineering option is designed to educate students who will engage in professional practice at the forefront of chemical engineering or excel graduate school and ultimately, become leaders in engineering, science, academia, business, and public service in a continually changing world. It accomplishes this by providing a broad and rigorous training in the fundamentals of chemical engineering while maintaining a balance between classroom lectures and laboratory experience. The program also strives to develop in each student self-reliance, creativity, professional ethics, an appreciation of the societal impact of chemical engineering, and the importance of continuing intellectual growth.
An important outcome of a chemical engineering education is to prepare a student to synthesize the many subjects studied into the design of a system, component, process, or experiment. Problems illustrating the design process are integrated into the core courses. The nature and scope of these will depend on the focus of the course. In keeping with the philosophy of using tracks to ensure depth in each student's selected area of focus, and recognizing that many Caltech students go on to graduate study or pursue careers in research and development at the frontiers of chemical engineering, Caltech Chemical Engineering offers several opportunities to satisfy the design requirement.
During the junior and senior years, students diversify into one of four tracks where they pursue concentrated study in their chosen area of chemical engineering (biomolecular, environmental, materials, or process systems). An optional senior thesis provides an opportunity to pursue independent research and design in lieu of one of the senior laboratories.
While all groups start with the same basic toolkit, each group undertakes design to achieve a different objective and then builds and evaluates their system. In addition, students in the Process Systems track undertake a project in integrated chemical process design using chemical process simulation tools. All students have the opportunity to substitute for the second laboratory course a senior thesis (two terms) that contains a significant component of design in the sense that the original problem is open ended and requires identifying solutions subject to constraints. To ensure that the thesis project will satisfy the design requirement, students must submit a thesis proposal at the time of their preregistration that describes the project and its design component, as well as the first term progress report and final thesis, to the department senior thesis coordinator.