Lab Work in Chemical Engineering

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By Emma, Chemical Engineering
College of Engineering and Physical Sciences, University of Birmingham

Labs are one of the best tools I have found for consolidating the content delivered in lectures. In my first year, I walked into some labs having no clue what I was doing and walked out with it all making sense. It is much easier to visualise equipment in exams when you have seen a lab-scale example. Especially in first year, there are a range of labs scheduled to help you understand the working principles of various chemical engineering equipment, such as heat exchangers, distillation columns, and pipework.

In my experience, most of the labs take place in the Collaborative Teaching Laboratory (CTL) building, which has lab space for students from various STEM disciplines. There are also labs in the engineering and chemical engineering building (so you get a proper tour of campus facilities)! Lecturers and postgraduate teaching assistants (PGTAs) guide you through the lab and are there to answer any questions you have.

Following some labs, a lab report is submitted to allow you to analyse the data that you have collected. In first year, there is an initial formative lab report to be submitted which allows you to gain feedback and learn how to construct a good lab report. Although the layout of lab reports is likely different to any report you’ve submitted before, you’ll get the hang of it quickly!

In my second year, the pandemic meant that most of my labs were online, but I was lucky enough to do some optional labs at the end of the second semester. My friend and I signed up to assemble a pneumatic control valve, and it not only gave me a better understanding of the components, but it allowed me to get back into the swing of things before I started my third year!

In first year, you’ll also complete some computer labs, which teach you to use common engineering software such as AutoCAD and programming platforms such as MATLAB. You may also have these in following years, but this is dependent on module choices. The software you learn to use in first year is especially useful during your third-year design project. These labs also predominantly take place in the CTL computer clusters, (which are particularly favoured by students due to each lab space having two monitors) but may be in the chemical engineering computer lab also.