Summer camp introduces high schoolers to chemical and biomolecular engineering

8/11/2023 Molly Fried

Written by Molly Fried

This July, 24 high school students from diverse backgrounds came to the University of Illinois to learn about chemical and biomolecular engineering from faculty in the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering (ChBE). This annual program, called Catalyzing Ur Interest in Chemical Engineering (CURIE), is part of the Worldwide Youth in Science and Engineering Program (WYSE) summer camp series for high schoolers. WYSE-CURIE is an IDEA camp – a camp that aims to Increase Diversity, Equity and Access in STEM fields. 

Group of studentas and faculty who participated in CURIE in fornt of RALProfessor Diwakar Shukla coordinates WYSE-CURIE with help from many other ChBE faculty and graduate students. Nearly 50 faculty and students collaborated to create activities, organize chemical plant tours, and teach high school students about the core concepts chemical engineers interact with daily.

“Camp CURIE is our annual event that brings together the entire department to showcase the breadth of research and education in our discipline and helps recruit the next generation of engineers to our campus,” said Shukla.

Three girls looking at the camera in a computer lab, one showing the other two how to do computer modeling

This year the campers participated in many hands-on activities such as chemical engineering unit operations, hands-on protein folding and water purification. These activities give clear visuals to abstract ideas that chemical engineers use in their research and explore the complexities of chemical engineering for the students. The activities teach students about cutting-edge research that chemical engineers do, ranging from plastics and computer modeling to the science of making chocolate melt at the right temperature in the mouth.

At the end of the week, the students toured the local Abbott Power Plant in Champaign, Ill. During this tour, the students could see the machines and processes used in the chemical plants and interact with the engineers to learn about the career of a chemical engineer.

“Our aim was to deliver one key message to the students: chemical engineering touches everything. Students appreciated that chemical engineering products used in daily life are the result of extensive research and development,” said Shukla.

man showing campers moleuculesSeveral faculty groups participated in this year’s camp and led the students in hands-on activities. Professors Charles Sing, Damien Guironnet, Antonia Statt, Alexa Kuenstler and Simon Rogers taught students about soft materials research in the department. Ying Diao, Xiao Su and Alex Mironenko taught the campers about energy and sustainability research, and Hyun-Joon Kong, Li-Qing Chen and Shukla taught students about the basics of biomolecular engineering

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This story was published August 11, 2023.