Chemical industry and academia must move closer

The 7th World Congress of Chemical Engineering is nearly upon us, and "industry people" need to have a larger presence at these types of meetings, says Editor in Chief Mark Rosenzweig.

By Mark Rosenzweig

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Next month, thousands of chemical engineers and others will converge on the Scottish Exhibition and Conference Center in Glasgow for the 7th World Congress of Chemical Engineering. The U.K.’s Institution of Chemical Engineers is hosting this latest of the triennial series of meetings, which runs July 10-14, but the American Institute of Chemical Engineers, Germany’s DECHEMA and other groups around the world also are involved. Details are available at www.chemengcongress2005.com.

 “Chemical engineering is more than 100 years old. Many people contend that the discipline came of age in the 1950s and 1960s, and some argue that it is now in its twilight years. I would hotly contest that proposition,” says David Bogle, a professor at University College, London, and director of the Congress’s technical program. “The core chemical engineering skill set is as relevant today as it has ever been. But what has changed is the way in which those skills are deployed and the sectors in which they are applied. Chemical engineering remains a key driver to social, environmental and economic progress,” he emphasizes. In its own way, this conference underscores the potential of the profession, but also highlights its problems.

The Congress truly showcases the international nature of the field. It is slated to include presentations from more than 2,200 authors from 72 countries. More than half are from Europe and the U.K.; 16% are from the Americas and even more, 18%, are from Asia.

 “The scientific program focuses on five key themes that encapsulate the very essence of modern chemical engineering,” Bogle says. “Managing Complexity” covers topics such as process synthesis and design, automation and control, and supply-chain management. “Molecules into Money” looks at issues such as product innovation, process intensification and entrepreneurship. “Engineering for Life” includes topics ranging from tissue engineering to sustainable technology to environmental management. “Science into Engineering” centers on the translation of developments in areas such in nanotechnology, energy and sensors into practical use. Finally, “Advancing the Fundamentals” concentrates on the core aspects of chemical engineering like transport phenomena, thermodynamics and catalysis.

Professors will give the vast majority of presentations; many in industry undoubtedly will consider most of these papers to be too basic, regardless of how they are categorized or couched. The scientific panels behind each of these themes include people from industry, but generally those involved in research. 

So, unfortunately, Congress will provide lots for researchers, but it won’t offer much that will appeal to chemical engineers in plants. There’s nothing new in that. The triennial meetings traditionally have focused heavily on academic research.

People involved in developing technical programs invariably say it is hard to get practitioners to make presentations. Sure, companies often limit what can be said, don’t want to fund the travel or otherwise put up roadblocks. In contrast, professors are encouraged to give papers and seem to face far fewer financial restrictions in going to meetings, no matter how distant. So, it certainly is easier to fill a program with papers from faculty.

Granted, it won’t be easy, but such meetings must attract a wider range of industry people, both as presenters and attendees. Congress organizers can do a real service to the profession by using the meeting to address the growing disconnect between industry and academia. A World Congress is a great opportunity to bring those two worlds together.
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