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.
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.