Let’s talk about chemical engineering

I have a new problem in life. I can’t stand people who cannot distinguish between chemistry and chemical engineering. For instance, this is the conversation I have had numerous times in my life:

Random Uncle ji: Beta, Ershad, how have you been? Don’t you recognise me? I used to visit your folks when you were little. I am your uncle’s brother-in-law’s sister’s father-in-law’s nephew. I would often carry you on my shoulders, and we would go for walks.

Me (thinking): Uhh, who? I’m sorry, but I don’t remember you. If I had seen you, I might have remembered you. It’s not often you see a face that so closely resembles a goat’s. And what walks? Besides, that’s too much information in one go.

Me: Oh, yes. I remember! I am fine. How can I forget those walks? How have you been Uncle ji?

Random Uncle ji: I am fine, thank you. I heard that you have been working in the oil sector. Your Aunty and I are so proud. We always knew you would make it. You studied chemical engineering, right? I heard chemical engineers earn more than any other engineers?

Me (thinking): Made it? Dude, Mark Zuckerberg made it. This guy I know who cracked the UPSC and became an IAS officer made it. That chaiwala who became PM made it. Not me. Oh, and nice try. I ain’t telling you my salary.

Me: I am not sure, but thank you Uncle ji. It’s because of your dua that I am where I am today.

Random Uncle ji: No, no, you are being modest. I always tell my son, “Follow the footsteps of your Ershad bhaijaan.” You have always been good in studies. By the way, what do you do in your free time?

Me (thinking): Okay, this is going somewhere. And I don’t like it.

Me: Oh, not much. You know the usual, TV and stuff.

Random Uncle ji: Oh, why don’t you come over to our place. Young men like you should socialise more. You should utilise all that free time you get. Once you have a family, you won’t have time for yourself. Your aunty was also telling me the other day about this.

Me (thinking): All right. First of all, I don’t have any free time. When I am not working, I am busy inventing lame stories about normal strangers, writing weird unfunny posts, fantasising about going to the gym and getting a six pack, and playing corridor cricket. I spend my time planning what I would do when I become the President of Mars. Don’t tell me I have free time. Secondly, I think I will find staring at my ceiling fan much more interesting than spending an hour at your place, thank you.

Me: Oh, thank you. I’ll plan something.

Random Uncle ji: No, you must come tomorrow. I’ve already told your aunty. Oh and when you come over, could you give a little guidance to my son regarding his studies?

Me (thinking): Oh, great! So nice of you to ask my consent. And what is with all that aunty invocation in every other sentence?

Me: What kind of guidance?

Random Uncle ji: You know, how competitive it is these days. He really wants to be an engineer. Now, he is all right with physics and mathematics, but he is finding chemistry a bit difficult. Then I remembered who better than you to teach him chemistry. Just help him with the concepts a little bit.

Me (thinking): “He” wants to be an engineer? Oh, you mean, “you” want him to be an engineer.

Me: Yes, that is fine, but Uncle ji, I studied chemistry a long time ago. I don’t recall any of it. Besides, I was never good at chemistry anyway.

Random Uncle ji: What are you talking about? Chemistry is in your blood. You deal with chemicals every day. Chemical engineering – Chemistry/ Potato – Potaato. You will be fine. Okay, I have to go now and buy some potatoes. I’ll pick you up tomorrow around this time.

Me: But…wait…sigh

This is how it ends. Always. And I just want to scream my head off at all these morons. Therefore, at the risk of sounding exactly like the nerd I am, let me clarify some things for all of you who think chemical engineers know chemistry. (Disclaimer: I am speaking about strictly Indian chemical engineers and especially those who weren’t brilliant enough to go to the IITs. Those IITians are weird.)

Where do I start? Oh, organic chemistry. You know that hexagonal thing they call benzene? Yes, the only thing we know about that is that it looks hexagonal. We actually learned the word hexagonal after we saw the benzene structure instead of it being the other way around. We don’t know where the hydrogen atoms are and where the carbon lives. We have no idea where the reactive sites are and which bonds are broken for benzene to become a phenol or aldehyde or ketone or whatever else is left. Oh, and don’t even ask us anything about resonance. The only Resonance we know is that lame band we formed in college where we experimented with heavy metal ghazals.

Moving on to the topic of physical chemistry, I can assure you that we only like the stuff that is common with physics. Stuff like atoms and electrons and their ilk are all right. However, we are stumped when you start talking about how these things interact during bond formation. What we are more interested are in the awful jokes about protons and neutrons like the following one:

“A neutron ordered a coffee at the coffee shop. When it asked for the bill, the owner said – for you, no charge.” …. Hahaha *frowns*

If this doesn’t convince you that we suck at chemistry, how about this: we have no idea what to do in the chemistry labs. For instance, remember the titrations and stuff? Yes, we only know that you have to either make the colour disappear, or in case it is a transparent liquid, make it appear. We don’t know anything about which one is acid and how much alkali we have to add. Phenolphthalein is something we can’t even pronounce (phenol-pa-thalein, penol-palein-thin, phenol-polythene?), let alone use.

Trust me, chemical engineers know nothing about chemistry. Due to unfortunate fate, or poor engineering entrance marks, we ended up studying chemical engineering. It had nothing to do with choice or a passion for the branch. Besides, the chemical part is mostly because we deal with chemicals every day. But isn’t that the case with those warehouse people who store chemicals? Or those doctors and pharma guys who use them? No one asks them to teach their kids chemistry.

Anyway, I think that’s enough for today. I will continue again as soon as another moron asks me to teach his kid.

P.S. Jokes aside, this is what chemical engineers actually do (especially those who work in chemical process industries). Imagine you have to synthesise a few grams of a substance Z. To do that, you have to react a few grams of substance X with a few grams of substance Y. And since the reaction is endothermic, you have to supply external heat. A chemist in such a case would normally use a test tube and heat the test tube over a Bunsen burner.

Now imagine you have to synthesise the same substance, but this time in tons of quantities. Where do you find such a big test tube and such a powerful burner? This is where chemical engineers come in. They design (or help other engineers design) equipments that can take care of such large quantities. Then they also take care of the operation of these equipments to deliver the desired quantity and quality of the product.

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52 thoughts on “Let’s talk about chemical engineering

  1. Oh my goodness that conversation was so on point! Those random uncles and aunties that seem to pop up and they’ve known since forever somehow but you don’t know anything about those moments 😀
    Loved how you coupled it all with the funny though, that’s what I thought 😛 that chemical engineers must know their chemistry 😀

    Liked by 2 people

  2. HA!! Just because I said the other day that chemistry was not my favourite subject.. 😐
    Worse, then you sit and give us a lecture on organic chemistry… and pray, what does the petrochemical field deal with? Oh wait.. let us just call it paleo-oleo-logy… all those dead creatures now becoming all servile and running our engines.. hmm, yes, biology for sure.. Heck, Chemistry? nothing close..
    boy, am I glad you are in the oil industry.. if you had been anywhere close to pharmacology I would have taken a hatchet to you … What do you mean you don’t know chemistry? Make it in bulk and mess up with one little molecule and you have hundreds of “engineered deaths”
    Ha! …As Queen Victoria said “We are not amused!!!”…

    (By the way… that neutron joke puts you in league with those IIT weirdos.. hehe)…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. 😀 You only gave the spark bro. Haha. I’ve been meaning to write this for some time now.
      Lol, about the engineered deaths though. I suppose that would have occurred. You should see what I do with sugar while preparing tea. 😛

      And that joke is a borrowed one. I don’t recall from where. I hope no one sues me for it.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. 🙂
        (Busy with some code stuff… some people in trouble with deadlines etc.. so not going to answer now.. talk to you later.. no sleep the last few days… and can’t think of any sassy replies hehe)..

        Liked by 1 person

      2. No Ershad.. a stupid company could close down because of this nonsense.. I have to find a solution by tonight.. so no sleep.. this is extremely crucial.. talk to you later, bhai.. Take care.. and as always, nice post.. 🙂
        Thanks for calling me a machine 😀 I feel like one at the moment..

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Haha. I love this one. Okay no, I didn’t know the difference either. But the last paragraphs explained it quite well. Benzenes and hexagons part was best. xD Oh and Phenolphthalein. And potatoes…

    Just last week a friend was sharing her friend’s story that he had secretly brought those rangoli colors in his final Chem prac and dropped it in his solution to prove titration results. And his teacher, obviously oblivious to it, was like: wow everyone this is the pink I want to see!

    Anyway. Chemistry was cool. Chemical engineering sounds good. Like, higher important stuff.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Just for coming up with this paragraph “All right. First of all, I don’t have any free time. When I am not working, I am busy inventing lame stories about normal strangers, writing weird unfunny posts, fantasising about going to the gym and getting a six pack, and playing corridor cricket. I spend my time planning what I would do when I become the President of Mars. Don’t tell me I have free time. Secondly, I think I will find staring at my ceiling fan much more interesting than spending an hour at your place, thank you.”, I respect you! This was unceasingly hilarious!

    Thank you for enlightening me about chemical engineering! I had nil idea! If not for this post, I might have ended up asking you about benzene and graphene and phenolphthalein some day 😉

    We often get asked from which college did you complete your Chartered Accountancy? And then we have to explain that we have a national institute for it, which they often fail to grasp for some odd reason!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Haha, I had fun writing those. I have a few other things I could have added there 😀
      You’re welcome.
      Hey, I knew that thing about CAs and the national institute. But then we kind of depend on the CAs for our salaries. So I make it a point to have some minimum knowledge about what they do.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I have to keep reminding myself not to read your posts during my boring biochemistry lectures because they make me spontaneously burst into giggles and laughter. Thanks for telling the difference because I am afraid I was assuming the same as your uncleji. I was about to ask so what do you actually do? And then read your PS.
    I can get your frustration. I went to India last year and when any aunty or uncle used to ask what I was doing and I would say Biotechnology they would nod their head and be like “Aaah B.Tech arre Sabiha ki beti bhi wahi kar rahi hai” and I would shake my head furiously and say nahi nahi B.Tech nahi Biotech and they will reply with wohi wohi ek hi baat hai and I had no choice but to groan internally because no matter what they refused to listen.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. 😀 I am so honoured!! Btw Biochemistry? That’s like two enemies joining forces. Biology and Chemistry.
      Lol comparing Biotech with BTech is too much. At least people over here say that Biotech is almost like medicine. But you know Aunties were sent on the face of the Earth for this reason only: to make us groan internally.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yup the evil Biochemistry where proteins and spectrometry eat up your brain.
        You are right. To make us cringe and groan internally.Aaah life would never be so colourful without them. I kinda miss them. Aunties here are mild but back in India are spicy haha. They make you cry

        Liked by 1 person

  6. hahaha 😀 I can understand your pain, I am an IT engineer so everyone thinks I can fix their windows or MAC issues,configuration issues, their hardware problems too and when you tell them you don’t know,they give you such ‘fake engineer’ looks, it ishard to explain them IT engineer doesn’t do it all, we have hardware engineers ;IT technicians and a separate IT department to fix these issues,:D

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh. I’ve been guilty of that too many times. I often ask my IT engineer friends for advice on latest gaming machines and graphics cards and how I can root my Android device.

      Most of the times their replies are hattt, hurrr, shooo.

      I don’t give them the “fake engineer” looks though lol. 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Lol that conversation was hilarious. I don’t know much about chemical Engineering and I too studied chemistry a long time ago. So, you know I can’t share your feelings 😛 But I am a computer scientist and when people expect me to repair their computers, oh then you know well what happens to me lol So our pain is basically the same-ish 😛
    Love your writing style.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh, I feel for you. Despite knowing my chemical engineering background I have had numerous people come up to me with their laptops and mobile phones to fix the ‘hanging’ problems. I can’t even imagine what you have to face haha.
      And thank you for those nice words, as well as spending some time here 🙂

      Like

  8. I had read this post when you first posted this. I am currently surfing through your blog and laughing my head off. Something happened just now.
    My brother just came and sat beside me asking what I’ve been reading. I showed him your blog. And he went like, “Okay, show me something good.”
    I replied, “Okay? Wanna read it or want me to read it to you?”
    He said, “han tum parho me sun raha hun.”
    I started reading this post and we were both laughing so hard. Thank you for your humor, a must needed thing after a long tiring day. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hahaha, you guys are making me laugh too. Just the image of you two laughing is making me smile.

      Besides thanks for flooding my notifications. That gives a weird warm feeling Haha.

      In all seriousness, though thank you. Agar I’ve made people laugh then my work is done 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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