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Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering Overview


  Chemical and Biomolecular engineering is the development and application of processes that change materials, either chemically or physically, at the molecular scale, and in the process, solving problems and generating valuable products. Originally the field was based on the applications of chemistry complemented by physics and mathematics, but with rapid advancements in the biological sciences, “biomolecular” was added to the department’s name in 2003. The undergraduate program in Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at Johns Hopkins is fully accredited by the Engineering Accreditation Commission of the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET, Inc.)

  An undergraduate degree from Johns Hopkins will emphasize the molecular science aspects of biology and chemistry along with the engineering concepts essential to developing commercial products and processes. Students have the opportunity to pursue courses in a particular area and receive their B.S. degree with a concentration:

  • Interfaces and Nanotechnology (IN) – the fabrication, assembly and self-assembly of nanoparticles into ordered structures with new optical, electrical and magnetic properties.
  • Molecular and Cellular Bioengineering (MCB) – the study of molecular transformations critical to the onset of diseases such as arteriosclerosis and cancer, and the genetic manipulation of cells to produce valuable designer protein and vaccines for the biopharmaceutical industry.

  Furthermore, students looking to increase their knowledge of the field as undergraduates should take advantage of the rich tradition of Johns Hopkins as a research institution. The department’s faculty is involved in many areas of advanced research, including:

  • Nano and micro technology - the understanding and exploitation of the physical, chemical and biological properties of nano and micro structures
  • Cell and molecular biotechnology – genomic and protein engineering, smart nanosystems, stem cell research and cell engineering
  • Interfacial phenomena – the study of the composition and conformation of molecules at the interfacial level, which differ significantly from the bulk due to surface energetic and entropic effects
  • Computational biology and functional genomics – developing connections between the biological sciences and chemical engineering through the organization and interpretation of the vast amounts of basic data being generated in the field, particularly the hierarchical relationships of biological organization
  • Computational biology and functional genomics – developing connections between the biological sciences and chemical engineering through the organization and interpretation of the vast amounts of basic data being generated in the field, particularly the hierarchical relationships of biological organization
  • Molecular thermodynamics – utilizing new structural data on bio-molecules to understand their function in terms of their structure
  • Drug delivery, biomaterials and tissue engineering – research on the design, synthesis and characterization of advanced biomaterials.

Participation in research as well as extracurricular activities and honors societies



Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering Career Options


  The Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering program provides its graduates with real-world skills and advanced knowledge of scientific disciplines that can lead to lucrative careers as chemical engineers in chemical manufacturing, pharmaceuticals and biomedical engineering. Chemical and biomolecular engineers impact virtually every product on the market, using their knowledge of mathematics and chemistry to overcome technical problems safely and economically, while using their engineering backgrounds to create and develop new products. Some of the main industries in which they work include:

  • Chemical manufacturing - An essential component of the manufacturing industry, chemical manufacturers support industries such as construction, motor vehicles, paper, electronics, transportation, agriculture and pharmaceuticals by producing intermediate products for other goods. Chemical manufacturers also create consumer products directly for the retail market, such as cleaning products, bleach and cosmetics. The industry is divided into six basic components:
    • Basic chemicals - includes petrochemicals, gases, dyes and pigments. Many are used as ingredients in the industrial manufacturing process or as catalysts, which do not appear in a final product, but which speed up or otherwise aid a reaction.
    • Synthetic materials - includes both finished products and raw materials, including common plastic materials such as polyethylene, polypropylene, polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and polystyrene. These form the basis of many consumer products.
    • Agricultural chemicals - includes the fewest workers in the chemical industries but supplies farmers and gardeners with fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides and other agricultural chemicals.
    • Paints, coatings and adhesive products - includes paints, varnishes, putties, paint removers, sealers, adhesives, glues and caulking, supporting the construction and furniture industries.
    • Cleaning preparation - the only segment of the industry in which much of the production is geared directly toward consumers, and includes soaps, detergents, cosmetics and toiletries such as perfume, lotion and toothpaste.
    • Other chemical products - includes explosives, printing ink, film, toners, matches and other miscellaneous chemicals.

  The diversity of products produced by the industry presents a diverse set of career opportunities. Industries that market their products to industrial customers typically employ a greater proportion of precision production workers than other chemical manufacturers, whereas those that market directly to consumers, such as cosmetics or paint, have more opportunities in creative development and marketing.

  Pharmaceutical and medicine manufacturing - Among the most competitive and lucrative fields in the world today, the pharmaceutical and medicine manufacturing industry is truly changing the world with the medicines available today for diagnostic, preventative and therapeutic uses. The U.S. pharmaceutical industry has distinguished itself through research and development work on new drugs, which results in the testing of tens of thousands of potential new drugs but the production of fewer than 100 each year. Research and development departments seek and test libraries of thousands to millions of new chemical compounds with the potential to prevent, combat or alleviate symptoms of diseases with the goal of discovering new products or improving existing ones. To do so, they use the newest technologies, such as computer simulation, combinatorial chemistry, and high-through-put screening (HTS) to hasten and simplify the discovery of potentially new compounds.

  With advances in biotechnology continually changing our understanding of human genes, that knowledge is translated into viable drugs. The drug development process is becoming increasingly efficient as our understanding of cellular function grows. Stem cell research, first discovered at Johns Hopkins, allows the natural healing process to work faster and allow the regrowth of missing or damaged tissue. Applied research enables developers to develop a drug targeted to specific uses, such as slowing the advance of cancer or combating viruses. Once a potential new drug is identified, the rigorous (and expensive) drug screening process begins, culminating in about one of every five to ten thousand compounds eventually being approved for production. But, as new technology appears, scientists are able to test drug candidates far more rapidly in the past, making the field exciting and increasingly lucrative.

  Beyond research and development, career opportunities within the pharmaceutical industry include production operations. Once FDA approval is obtained for a drug, scientists and engineers must work to develop a manufacturing process economically adaptable to mass production. Quality control and quality assurance protocols must be adapted and maintained. Finally, the drug must be marketed – but because the product is a scientific compound being marketed to doctors, chemical engineers with an interest in business can also serve in this capacity, and also in pharmaceutical sales.

  Biomedical engineers combine their knowledge of biological sciences with engineering abilities to improve human health by designing instruments and devices. They bring together knowledge from many sources to develop new procedures, and carry out cross-disciplinary research. Major advances in biomedical engineering include the development of artificial joints, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), the heart pacemaker, arthroscopy, angioplasty, bioengineered skin, kidney dialysis, and the heart-lung machine.

Chemical engineers perform many roles within these industries, depending on area of specialization and level of experience. While positions vary from industry to industry and company to company, generally they include:

  • Biomedical specialists - work alongside physicians to develop new medical instruments and devices
  • Process design engineers - work with teams of engineers to develop new or improved processes to meet production needs
  • Environmental engineers – develop techniques to recover usable materials and reduce waste, and monitoring compliance with environmental regulations
  • Plant process engineer – design methods to improve production efficiency
  • Product engineer – follows the production cycle of a particular product to ensure it is meeting specification, and works with research and development to ensure that products meet the needs of customers
  • Project engineer – oversees the design and construction of specific processes in a facility
  • Quality control engineer– monitors the manufacture of product to ensure that quality standards are maintained reliably
  • Research and development engineer – develops new and more efficient ways of using and producing existing products, and develops and tests new products
  • Sales and marketing engineer – using technical and scientific expertise, solves production and process problems by providing products to meet specific customer needs.

  Many Hopkins Chemical and Biomolecular engineering graduates choose to use their analytical abilities and problem-solving skills to pursue careers not traditionally associated with chemical engineering. Some of these include medicine, law, business, technical writing, finance, government and insurance. For instance, attorneys with chemical engineering background can write patents for pharmaceutical, biomedical engineering and chemical manufacturing companies.

  Business coordinators develop budgets and capital projects for manufacturing facilities and processes to increase profitability of manufactured chemicals. Even those within standard chemical engineering professions find that, given the dynamic and expanding nature of the field, their typical responsibilities include management, marketing, packaging, distribution, strategic planning and computer programming.



Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering Career Prep


  A bachelor’s degree is required for all entry-level jobs in chemical engineering, but employers value a range of capabilities above and beyond classroom work. Additional skills that are of increasing value to industry employers include:

  • computer and programming skills - which are becoming a necessity as many laboratory and industrial processes become automated
  • bilingual ability - as the marketplace for chemicals is increasingly global
  • communication skills - as engineers work in teams and must communicate the capabilities of their products to marketing and sales teams
  • management and finance skills - as every decision an engineer makes has business consequences that must be well-reasoned
  • international awareness - is progressively more important because the global market requires an understanding of the cultural, geographic, economic and environmental factors that influence consumer decisions, as well as the public health challenges facing various regions
  • technical knowledge - of other engineering disciplines, as chemical engineers work in teams with engineers of other disciplines and an understanding of their abilities will create stronger working relationships.

  In addition to excellent academic credentials, employers look for well-rounded candidates who bring diverse experiences and perspectives to a team environment. Extra-curricular activities on campus such as volunteering, athletic teams and social organizations allow undergraduates to demonstrate their ability to work well and communicate with others. Similarly, employers expect students to graduate with the real-world professional skills gained through research and internship experiences.

  Higher level positions in the chemical engineering profession require more advanced degrees, such as a master’s degree or doctorate.



Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering Alumni


  Hopkins Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering alumni go into a variety of career fields. The Career Center has surveyed recent graduates about their academic and career plans 6 months after graduation. Here is a summary of their responses.

Hopkins Alumni in Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering

Evan Bauman- IT Business Systems Manager, Shell Global Solutions, Inc., Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering, Class of 1982

  1. How did you get interested in your field? Was it your original goal when you started at Hopkins? - Originally I was pre-med but switched to chemical engineering after I lost interest in medicine.
  2. What was your career path? What did you do as an undergraduate and as a graduate student to get to your current job? Was this a direct route, or a circuitous one? - Always intended to get a PhD and then work in corporate research. I started at the Shell Development Company right after finishing my PhD.
  3. What advice do you have for current students, especially freshmen and sophomores? - Experience, experience, experience. Get as many internships, co-ops, etc. as you can.
  4. What is your typical day like? - I'm part of a virtual team that works around the globe. My mornings are usually spent reviewing overnight emails and speaking with counterparts in Europe. Afternoons are spent on local (Houston) matters; i.e. speaking with scientists, managers.
  5. What's most rewarding about your industry and/ or job? What's most challenging? - Shell is a great company and offers many different career paths. These days, it's quite good to be in the energy business.
  6. What are typical entry-level positions for this field? What tips do you have for students to be successful in these positions? - Typical assignments for bachelors candidates are in manufacturing. It almost always requires an advanced degree to work in research or technology.
  7. Where do you see the field going in the next 5-10 years? - The energy business is very dynamic right now with opportunities in alternative energy projects as well as the traditional fields of energy discovery, transportation, and manufacturing.
  8. What skills and out-of-class experiences (i.e. internships, co-curricular activities, volunteering, etc.) are ideal for entering your industry / career field? - Be a well-rounded individual and enthusiastic about your future. Bring a unique skill that the company doesn't have already.
  9. Where can someone in an entry-level position expect to be in two years? Five years? Ten years? - This really depends on the preference of the individual. Some people in Shell stay in the same area that they started in. Some move around quite a bit; i.e. every 3-4 years.

Faisal Islam- Product Safety/Regulatory Specialist, RPM DAP Incorporated, B.S. Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering, Class of 1992

  1. How did you get interested in your field? Was it your original goal when you started at Hopkins? - Job requirements lead me to pursue an MHS at Hopkins in Industrial Hygiene.
  2. What was your career path? What did you do as an undergraduate and as a graduate student to get to your current job? Was this a direct route, or a circuitous one? - Career path was to complete my MHS and MBA and transition into investment banking utilizing any regulatory background and financial training which would be ideal for mergers and acquisitions for publicly traded companies in the chemical industry.
  3. What was your first job after college? Was it in your current field? - My first job out of college was QC specialist. No it was not in my current field.
  4. What advice do you have for current students, especially freshmen and sophomores? - Focus on your career path early.
  5. What is your typical day like? - Usually hectic, as we have multiple environmental regulations to comply with.
  6. What's most rewarding about your industry and/ or job? What's most challenging? - Most rewarding would be going through an audit process and not finding any internal violations. Most challenging would be keeping up with constantly changing environmental regulations.
  7. What are typical entry-level positions for this field? What tips do you have for students to be successful in these positions? - Safety specialist. Learn as much as you can about OSHA regulations and what they focus on the most like HAZCOMM.
  8. Where do you see the field going in the next 5-10 years? - It can only get larger.
  9. What skills and out-of-class experiences (i.e. internships, co-curricular activities, volunteering, etc.) are ideal for entering your industry / career field? - Try to go to different job sites and develop an understanding of their regulatory programs. Field trips are great.
  10. Which professional organizations and resources should students look into or get involved with? - ACGIH CIH
  11. What related occupations and industries would you recommend students explore who are interested in your industry or career field? - Manufacturing and operations.

John P. Fisher- Associate Professor & Associate Chair, University of Maryland, Fischell Department of Bioengineering Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering, Biomedical Engineering, JHU Class of 1995, Master’s in Chemical Engineering PhD/Doctorate in Bioengineering

  1. How did you get interested in your field? Was it your original goal when you started at Hopkins? - My interest in research and a career in academia began while I was pursuing a MS in chemical engineering. I had originally planned to go directly into industry after my BS from Hopkins.
  2. What was your career path? How did you get to where you are today? - I obtained a PhD and then completed a short postdoctoral fellowship before beginning as an assistant professor.
  3. What was your first job after college? Was it in your current field? - I went directly from Hopkins into graduate school.
  4. What advice do you have for current students? - Learn how to work hard and be persistent. Find a profession you enjoy.
  5. What is your typical day like? - I work about 10 hours a day on a variety of different tasks: teaching, research, meetings, undergraduate programming, and collaborative work.
  6. What’s most rewarding about your industry and/ or job? What's most challenging? - An academic researcher basically runs a small business within an university, so your successes are yours and your failures are yours.
  7. What are typical entry-level positions for this field? What tips do you have for students to be successful in these positions? - A position as a professor typically requires a PhD and often requires a postdoctoral position.
  8. Where do you see the field going in the next 5-10 years? - I work in tissue engineering and hopefully our field will see some clear clinical successes in the next 5 to 10 years.
  9. What skills and out-of-class experiences are ideal for entering your industry / career field? - Our field, similar to others, requires significant guidance from mentors and advisors, so great professional relationships are critical.
  10. Where can someone in an entry-level position expect to be in two years? Five years? Ten years? - Once hired as an assistant professor, promotion and tenure usually comes after 6 years, and promotion to full professor at 10 years.
  11. Which professional organizations and resources should students look into or get involved with? - All relevant scientific societies are important for a research career.
  12. What related occupations and industries would you recommend students explore who are interested in your industry or career field? - Teaching and research are obviously key components, but writing is a fundamental skill that is often overlooked.

Additional Alumni Profiles

    Networking with alumni and other professionals who work in these fields can help you learn very specific information about a career field. Use Johns Hopkins Connect to contact alumni to ask for their advice. You may also find professional contacts through professional associations, faculty, friends and family.

    For more information on what you can do with a Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering Major go to What can I do with a major in Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering.

    Want to know more? Read our Hopkins Career Profiles on Engineering, Biotechnology, Pharmaceuticals, Medicine, and Teaching. If you would like to talk about how your search is going, we invite you to make an appointment with a Career Counselor by calling 410-516-8056.

  LinkedIn.com - a professional networking site where you can identify Hopkins alumni. Join the LinkedIn Johns Hopkins University Alumni Group to add over 4000+ alumni to your network.



Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering Grad School


  The Career Center is here to help you navigate the graduate school search process. Click here for guidelines and preparing for Graduate School and Professional School.

  For information on the specific programs, the best people to talk to are the experts in your field you wish to study, faculty members and graduate students in that specific discipline. We strongly encourage you to talk with your advisor and other faculty members with whom you have a good working relationship. This will also help when you request letters of recommendation. The Career Center has a handout to guide you in asking for letters of recommendation.



Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering Societies


  Professional organizations and associations are a great help in beginning, planning and promoting a career in chemical engineering, by promoting the interests of their members and providing a network of contacts.

  The American Institute of Chemical Engineers, AIChE, is the world’s leading organization for chemical engineering professionals, with more than 40,000 members from 90 countries. Within the organization is the Society for Biological Engineering (SBE), which is dedicated to cultivating knowledge of the field and developing new products and services that integrate biology and chemical engineering that are cost effective, relevant and bring value to the biological community. Hopkins has an active student chapter of AIChE/SBE, and also has a ChemBE Career Network created to support current Hopkins students in career planning.



Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering Links