chemical engineering student

Key facts

Postgraduate students 2016–17
Taught Master's: 147
Research: 201

Staff : Student ratio 2016–17
1 : 19.7

Research Excellence Framework (REF) 2014
2nd in the UK based on proportion of world leading research

The Department of Chemical Engineering is one of the world’s leading institutions in both teaching and research in chemical engineering.

Research carried out within the Department covers a very broad spectrum, ranging from technological studies of the behaviour of processes and equipment to techniques for process planning, design and control. This is supported by a wide range of specialist research facilities, including a carbon capture pilot plant – the most sophisticated facility of its kind in the world.

Teaching and research laboratories are well equipped and backed by comprehensive technical services.

The Department has strong links with industrial and commercial organisations, including BP, Shell, ICI, P&G, GlaxoSmithKline and Unilever, which provide financial support for bursaries and real world research projects.


Our specialist facilities include:

  • high pressure engineering laboratories for studies up to 8,000 bar
  • a clean laboratory for work on surfaces
  • a world-leading carbon capture pilot plant
  • a tissue engineering laboratory
  • laboratories specialising in nanotechnology and supercritical processes

Research studies are underpinned by electronics and computing services, engineering workshops, and an analytical laboratory.

Study opportunities

The Department offers a number of study options to help you take your knowledge to the next level.

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Research programmes

About 180 students are engaged in research into the fundamental principles of chemical engineering and the many branches of chemistry, physics and biology relevant to chemical technology. The majority of these students are working towards a PhD, which involves study of three years' duration.

Entry requirements

Normal qualifications for acceptance for research training in this Department include first or upper second class Honours degrees in chemical engineering, chemistry, physics, mathematics, biological sciences or another branch of engineering. Applicants should normally hold a Master’s degree. Other qualifications may be acceptable in certain circumstances.

Research themes

We have a dynamic research structure. The research in the department is organised around five core laboratories with applications in four domain-driven research themes.

Core laboratories
Materials Laboratory

Our research aims to understand the behaviour of materials from a fundamental knowledge of the way in which interactions between molecules and larger structures influence the organisation and dynamics of bulk assemblies of materials. By understanding the microscopic behaviour of the wide range of materials we study, we aim to be able to predict their macroscopic responses, and to optimise these responses for particular technological processes or product applications.

Physical Properties & Analytics Laboratory

At the heart of the Physical Properties and Analytics Laboratory is the search for a fundamental understanding of the properties of matter and their relation to the structure and interactions of the constituent molecules. In pursuit of this goal, we employ leading-edge experimental and computational tools that allow us to gain detailed quantitative knowledge of physical and chemical properties, to test and extend theory, and to facilitate the design of products and processes.

Reaction & Catalysis Laboratory

Our broad-ranging research involves chemistry and materials science as well as chemical engineering. We aim to conceive, design, model, characterise, control and optimise catalysts, reactors and processes for chemical and fuel synthesis, energy conversion and for treating effluents, wastes and spent catalysts. Current examples from our wide range of research include fuel cells, catalyst technology, environmental catalysis and fine chemical synthesis.

Systems Laboratory

Our research encompasses methods and computer-based tools for optimization, design and operation in the process industries. Process Systems Engineering (PSE) uses domain knowledge and mathematical and experimental techniques to build computer models of all the unit processes that make up an existing or proposed chemical plant, refinery, biological cell or supply chain. These models can then be integrated to predict the behaviour of the system as a whole and used to test the outcome of various design options, process changes or failures at the system level. It can also be used to optimise the system to produce a particular outcome and assess performance across a range of criteria.

Transport and Separation Laboratory

In the Transport and Separation Laboratory, we pursue multi-scale, multi-disciplinary research in fluid mechanics and multiphase flows, as well as molecular separation techniques and their applications. In terms of fluid flow research, we use flow visualisation and diagnostics, theory, analysis and parallelised numerical simulations to examine systems that are of central importance to a broad range of industrial and biomedical applications. Separating molecules is at the heart of many chemical and biological processes, and our work in this area is connected with the synthesis of membranes and the applications of separations to wider chemical and biological processes.

Domain Areas
Bio-driven Chemical Engineering

Our Bio-driven research stands at the interface of traditional engineering and biological and medical sciences. Our mission is to combine the core principles from chemical, materials and mechanical engineering with modern biology and medicine to develop new approaches to biomedical engineering and technology. Highly interdisciplinary, our work involves extensive collaborations with other Departments, hospitals, industry and universities worldwide.

Energy/Sustainability Driven Chemical Engineering

Our objective is to harness fundamental technological and scientific research to facilitate the transition towards a sustainable energy economy. We aim to investigate alternatives to fossil fuels and clean exploitation of fossil fuels, improve fuel handling, fuel conversion and combustion methods, to increase energy conversion efficiency and minimize pollution and safety hazards in processes involving power generation and energy supply. The emphasis of our research is to utilise our world-class experimental and theoretical facilities and expertise to develop innovative solutions to real-world problems.

Molecular/Materials Driven Chemical Engineering

In the Molecular/Materials theme, our research is concentrated on developing predictive models to understand the behaviour of functional materials, develop generic techniques to tackle a range of problems and achieving desired behaviour in industrial processes. We also strive to understand materials in the context of the manufacturing and use, via a combination of modelling and experimental methods.

Multi-scale Driven Chemical Engineering

Our philosophy involves a combination of sophisticated theoretical, computational and experimental techniques across all relevant scales, with the ultimate aim to establish direct links between macro-scale descriptions and the behaviours of individual atoms and molecules, i.e. to integrate across scales. This approach should lead to a step-change in our understanding of chemical engineering processes from the molecular to the macroscopic level that will lead, for instance, to superior process and product design and novel manufacturing routes, while minimising the dependence on empiricism.

Current research topics

More information on research areas and PhD opportunities in the Department of Chemical Engineering.