This semester always seems to move quickly, one minute you’re getting back into the swing of things from the inter-semester break, you’re working through some lectures and suddenly it’s the assessment period. To be honest, I don’t remember much from this semester as it was a bit mellow, lockdown was still in place so all in-person tutorials had been cancelled. I spent most of it, patiently waiting for spring/sunshine to come quickly, doing degree work, bingeing the Sopranos, and waiting intently for the national lockdown to be lifted so I could live again.
Process Dynamics, Modelling and Control (part 2):
The second half of this PDMC unit focused on using the mathematical concepts of the laplace transform to model the dynamics of a given engineering process. Sound complex? It is.
In fact, this particular topic quickly became the bane of my existence. For some reason, I couldn’t wrap my brain around the application of the concept to chemical engineering scenarios. And even after doing further reading to try and grasp the content, it was a herculean task to then model the concept on the SIMULINK software. I figured out early on that process control was not a career prospect for me at all. Kudos to whoever goes down that field.
Chemical Engineering Principles 2:
I largely enjoyed the topics we got to learn this semester. Again, some more than others, I still to this day have no clue what was taught in separation (contactors). I went to the lectures and made detailed notes, but for some reason, I couldn’t work the problems out.
Typically, what happens when you do problem sheets, is that you recognize the patterns in the style of questioning and get better by solving harder and harder questions. With enough practice hours, you’ll ideally recognise all the patterns possible and have them hard-wired in your brain. That allows you to have a speedy response to solving questions in say, a time-pressured environment, like a design project, coursework assessment, or exam.
But the problem sheets for this topic always introduced a new concept not covered in lectures in every question, preventing any sort of pattern recognition (as there were no patterns to recognise), and meant that I was annotating my lecture notes with each question. Without the pattern recognition process nailed down, you’ll typically end up being surprised in the exam, which is the exact opposite of what you’d want (and is exactly what happened ahaha). Or maybe I’m just not as bright as I think I am.
My favourite topic was reaction engineering, and to be honest, it should be everyone’s favourite. This is proper chemical engineering, in the sense that you’re learning about designing reactor vessels where industrial chemical reactions take place. This was what I came to university for.
Chemical Engineering Skills, practice and design 2:
My summative and final lab report was on membrane characterisation. By this time, (end of February I believe) the national lockdown had been lifted and I was fortunate enough to go to the lab to run the experiment. I pulled out all the cards for this one, and side-lined attending lectures for that week just so I could cover all my bases and fine-tune the report. Hard work paid off too, I was chuffed with the outcome.
We had mechanical drawing lessons which were all semester long, and overall, these were arguably my most enjoyable classes. The class basically taught us how to create Process Flow Diagrams (PFDs) which represent the flowsheet of a given engineering process, Piping & Instrumentation Diagrams (P&IDs) which are PFDs with outlined control schematics (basically instruments and valves that ensure the process runs as it should – safely and smoothly) and the mechanical design of process units; all on the Microsoft VISIO software. Producing P&IDs also incorporated the safety and HAZOP content we had been taught in semester 1, so it was nice to see how everything tied in together
I loved this class because it provided instantaneous feedback for my efforts. I started off absolutely rubbish at producing PFDs, P&IDs and mech drawings but, by simply understanding the widgets and shortcuts on VISIO, the logic of control schematics, and putting in the hours to practice, I got better quickly. I’d argue as a ChemE student, that there’s no better feeling than producing a nice-looking P&ID or mechanical drawing of a process unit. Take this for example:
And finally ASPEN plus tutorials. ASPEN plus is a process simulation software package that’s widely used in various industries. In layman’s terms, it uses mathematical models with pre-selected thermodynamic models to predict the performance of a given process. It’s typically used to quickly design, optimise, and troubleshoot chemical processes.
It was a continuation of the ASPEN lessons from our first year, only that this time, the lessons were more or less entirely self-taught. ASPEN plus is highly technical and its interface is very complex, so each tutorial had an instruction sheet, directing us on what to do and click on and what results to expect. This is good in the sense that if you’re locked in, you can quickly get the tutorial done and move on.
However, you quickly come to rely on the instruction sheets to guide you through the entire process. And this is exactly what happened in my case, I laboured through all the tutorials, got the expected results, and quickly forgot it all. I guess I’m fortunate in the sense that I’ve never had to use it since, and probably never will.
I took up French lessons at the beginning of the year on the side, for no particular reason other than to scratch an itch. I ended up loving the classes, learning about France, French culture and cuisine. Figured if I ever came around to scraping a few pounds and setting off to France for say, a football match or sightseeing; throwing a few French sentences here and there might endear me to the locals and “enrich the experience”.
To be completely honest I don’t remember much lexicon or grammar from the classes, but I did develop the best fake Parisian accent you’ve ever heard. At least I think it’s Parisian, and a habit of correcting others when they butcher French words because “I studied French”. I earned that privilege.
Spring, sunshine, and hay fever finally came to Bath just before the Easter break. This of course meant we were at the end-of-year assessment period. Which meant a packed library, (unless you booked seats like 4 days prior or headed up to campus at 7am), forfeiting your social life and very little sleep.
First up was the PDMC II coursework. I’m writing this after completing my 3rd year and I’d say it is still the most challenging piece of work I’ve ever done. The work was based on modelling and controlling a human body's function. Which, interesting as it was, broke my brain for the 3-week time period in which it ran. Many an all-nighter was spent trying to come up with a viable model which could hold up long enough to be controlled.
We also had our design project running concurrently with the PDMC coursework, which served to be a crash course in time management. Design projects in the right circumstances should be the most fulfilling pieces of work you get to complete in your ChemE degree. With a degree that’s stereotypically viewed as rigid and logical, it’s mostly a creative process.
Using engineering judgement to put units and auxiliary equipment together or “synthesising” if you will, to achieve a desired purpose in a process. While some might think the presence of things like thermodynamic laws put you in a box and restrict creativity, I’d argue you’re most creative when put inside a box. I won’t spend too much time geeking out over the project, it was based on a reactor node in a tea-making process.
Design projects on the ChemE course are a team working exercise - students are randomly allocated to a group. So you might end up with familiar faces, or because the course has 90+ people, folks you’ve never heard or seen before. To keep it real, this could go either way. You could end up loving design projects or hating them depending on your group members.
Teamwork, effective communication, and time management are of paramount importance in these projects, I’d argue more so than everyone being incredibly intelligent but not being able to coordinate. I was fortunate to have teammates who were not only ambitious and who knew their stuff, but also communicated well. As you can imagine, we moved in lockstep, got stuff done in time and ended up with a satisfactory grade at the end.
After the project and coursework submission, we had a two-week revision break before exams. Our exams were still to take place online due to COVID-19 restrictions (vaccines hadn’t yet gone mainstream at this point) and we had a 24-hour time period to attempt and submit.
And yes, it very nearly did take up the entire 24-hours. I’ve got vivid memories of scanning my exam papers and submitting at 4am in the library, then heading up to the top floor of the library to watch the sunrise. Those memories will be sticking with me for a long long time.
And that was it, half of my degree already done.