What is Chemical Engineering?

Chemical and biomolecular engineering is a diverse and exciting field where you could find yourself creating life-saving medicines, turning carbon emissions into green energy, purifying contaminated water sources, or developing the next big food item to hit grocery store shelves. It’s all about using chemistry at scale to create a more efficient and sustainable world. 

Chemical engineers work in fuels and energy; biotechnology, including pharmaceuticals; foods and beverages; cosmetics and other consumer products; advanced materials and plastics. The average annual salary for Illinois students graduating with a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering is about $74,000, according to data collected by the School of Chemical Sciences Career Services.

Who graduates from our program?

Around the world, our alumni can be found reducing costs at production facilities and building reactors to manufacture new materials. They’ve been instrumental in developing products like Tide (Procter & Gamble), Cheerios (General Mills), DiGiorno pizza (Nestle), and Cottonelle tissue (Kimberly-Clark). The department has a history of producing outstanding graduates:

  • Arnold Beckman (BS ’22) invented the pH meter and founded Beckman Instruments.
  • Bob Dudley (BS ’78) was CEO of BP.
  • Paul Adriani (BS ’85) worked with SunPower to develop new products that convert sunlight into electricity. 
  • Amy Stabell (BS ’07) designed a reactor for making the nanomaterials at Pixelligent Technologies, a next-generation manufacturer of optical materials for the electronics industry.
  • Brian Kwok (BS ’00) is a lawyer focusing on intellectual property practice, including patent strategy and licensing.
  • Sonam Patel (BS ’11) develops consumer products for Procter & Gamble’s feminine care business.
  • Ashlee Ford Versypt (BS '12),  Dan Pack (BS ’90) and Chris Arges (BS ’05) have gone on to earn their doctoral degrees and become chemical engineering faculty.
  • Ashley Yeager (BS '16) is a physician who is on the frontlines addressing the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Meet Our Alumni  Interactive Map of 'Where Our Graduates Go'

How did the discipline evolve? 

The study of chemical engineering at Illinois dates back to 1901. We’re one of the oldest chemical engineering departments in the nation. Throughout the 20th century, chemical engineering expanded from chemical production to the sustainable production of fuels, plastics, foods, and consumer products. In 2002, to mark the increased role that biology plays in product manufacturing, the department was one of the first to change its name to the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering.

Discover Our History

Learn more about our program! 

From creating life-saving medicines to advancing fuel cell research, a degree in Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering allows you to improve the products that people use every day while reducing their cost. Housed in the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences because of its origins in the Department of Chemistry, Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering maintains close ties to The Grainger College of Engineering. Learn more about this diverse and exciting field.