CHBE 121: Introduction to the Profession

On a fateful day in April 2010, a heat exchanger failed at the Tesero refinery in Washington, causing an explosion and the deaths of seven employees. The U.S. Chemical Safety Board launched an investigation, released a report, and issued recommendations.

This catastrophic accident is one of nearly 60 process safety incidents that chemical and biomolecular engineering students study in the introductory course to the profession, CHBE 121.

Each group is assigned to a different major process safety incident that happened within the last 15 years. Most incidents are taken from Chemical Safety Board investigations to provide the students with at least one in-depth source of information.

The students read reports, summarize findings, and provide recommendations for future companies working with similar hazards. They share their insights during a poster session at the end of the semester. “It is a very sobering experience to stand in a room with nearly 60 different projects of major industrial accidents that have all happened within their lifetime,” said Troy Vogel, a former instructor of the course.

Departmental faculty, who will soon have these students in upcoming classes offer feedback on their posters. They also receive feedback from chemical engineering students taking the Unit Operations course, many of whom will soon be in charge of these processes.

“This project allows students to start their chemical engineering education with an in-depth analysis of a major safety incident and critically evaluate actions moving forward,” Vogel said. “The same students are then reminded three years later, right before graduation, of the impact they have on the lives of individuals and communities if something were to go wrong.”

This exercise is part of the department’s “design across the curriculum” efforts, which calls for students to complete design projects in core chemical engineering courses throughout their undergraduate careers.

Former students Maddy Chalifoux and Matt Daminato reviewed the 2006 Patridge-Raleigh oilfield explosion in Mississippi. Daminato said that he enjoyed learning more about what he could do with a degree in chemical engineering in CHBE 121, but also, “how to avoid incidents like this one” in Mississippi. Chalifoux said the class provides insight into what they can do with their degrees, but also what they will be doing in the course of earning their diplomas. 

The course also includes lectures and discussions on the history and scope of chemical engineering as well as trips to chemical engineering plants. Alumni who work in a variety of industries  Seniors also talk to the class and share their experiences in internships or co-ops and studying abroad and other classes in the ChBE curriculum.

“This course allows students to start their education with an in-depth analysis of a major safety incident and critically evaluate their actions moving forward.”

Troy Vogel
Former CHBE 121 lecturer

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