Fall break is the time many students go home for a short visit. A motivated group of chemical engineering students instead used their fall break to add a short course to their higher education experience. The students, who are part of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE) Student Chapter at UTC, received formal training in solids processing or handling.
Solids processing involves steps like grinding, agglomeration, tableting, crystallization and material transfer used in chemical manufacture and processing of food and pharmaceuticals. Manufacturers who grind coffee, make pasta, and create cosmetics use solids processing, but there is little formal training in the United States in these areas.
E&G Associates offered the short course, UTC hosted it, and it was taught by Dr. Bryan J. Ennis, Associate Professor in the UTC Department of Civil and Chemical Engineering, who has received two national service awards from AIChE for helping found its particle technology division.
Undergraduate and graduate students and faculty from UTC attended, as well as engineers from W.R. Grace, Chattem Chemical, Woodbridge, Wacker Chemical, Astec, and interns from NASA.
Ed Laughlin, Global Chemical Catalyst Business and Marketing Manager for W.R. Grace & Co., brought his staff to learn more about the physics associated with solids processing.
“As a practitioner of powder processing for over 35 years I thought I knew everything that there was to know about the subject,” said Ed Laughlin, Global Chemical Catalyst Business and Marketing Manager for W.R. Grace & Co.
Laughlin called the short course a “perfect example of how the University can partner with local industries to create value for students and the local businesses.” Laughlin noted that the UTC undergraduate students who attended now have a better understanding of solids processing, an advantage their peers will not have.
“The students were able to actually run experiments alongside industry engineers. They had a chance to see how we approached the problems. We had a chance to collaborate and it reinforced my view that UTC attracts great students,” Laughlin explained. “It was a networking opportunity for the students to solicit jobs or internships. I made a note of several candidates whose names I have passed on to our Human Resource department.”
Laughlin is hopeful the short course can be a model for future collaborations.
Ennis says powders and bulk solids mixtures used in solids processing are often misunderstood. They differ greatly from designing processes for gases and liquids.
“The odds are four in five that a chemical engineer will be faced with a solids handling problem within their first two assignments in their career. It’s important for students have some exposure to solids processing in their undergraduate education,” Ennis explained.
The students and industrial participants who attended the course had a chance to solve a variety of team design problems and conduct hands-on experiments in the laboratory.
“My favorite part of this workshop was definitely the lab work. It really helped drive home the concepts Dr. Ennis presented and also sparked an idea. UTC student attendees want to implement what we learned and design a hopper for one of our design projects, the Chem-E Car,” said Zoë Braden, captain of the ChemE car team. A ChemE car is powered and stopped solely by a chemical reaction. The UTC team will enter a ChemE car in the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE) southern regional competition.
“It was rewarding to see the collaboration of our students with local engineers, as they worked through the problems together,” Ennis added. “Students are even now measuring flow properties of lunar regolith simulants in their unit operations laboratory class, in collaboration with NASA researchers.”