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  • 22nd December 2023

Goodbye 2023, and what to read while we’re away

Article by Adam Duckett

AS WE put the lids on our pens, close our notebooks, and say goodbye until 2 January, we thought you’d appreciate a few pointers on what to catch up on while we’re away.

A ChemEng-y Christmas

If you are in the mood for a ChemEng-y Christmas, look no further than our final issue of the year. , Given the sizable influence that Charles Dickens has had on many of the social traditions and themes of Christmas that we still hold dear today, it would be remiss for us not to get in on the act, and borrow from one of his most celebrated Christmas stories. With that we give you chemical engineering in three acts: Martin Pitt delves into a ChemEng Christmas past, and explains the engineering behind the surprises that await in a traditional Christmas stocking. In a very literal take on ‘Christmas present’, we review the gifts for you to inspire the budding chemical engineers in your life (and one or two to keep for yourself). And finally, we take a trip to Christmas future and ask members of the community to imagine how chemical engineering will shape the festive period in 50 years’ time.


One of my favourite quotes about progress, though it’s disputed whether William Gibson said it or not, is “The future is already here. It’s just not evenly distributed yet.”

This neatly encapsulates many of the technologies that are set to influence our lives but perhaps are not at scale yet, are proving beneficial but causing unintended consequences, or are on the cusp of completely reshaping how we work and live.

In this vein, if you haven’t been following along, I’d urge you to read the online series that David Simmonds has been writing about Engineering Net Zero. They explore how engineers need to communicate the challenges, the skills needed to deliver the energy transition, and the importance of hybrid technologies.

There is also our series of articles on fusion power, in which chemical engineers from the UK Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA) explain how our profession will be central in solving net zero challenges, including the development of a fusion fuel cycle; a prototype power plant; and decommissioning and repurposing the pioneering JET facility. Fusion power achieving commercial reality has long been spoofed as always being tomorrow’s technology, but it feels like reality is finally catching up with ambition.

In a recent interview, we heard how supercomputing and the industrial metaverse might be the accelerants needed for engineers to  move(?) society towards a cleaner future. However  that industry is going to have to shoulder greater risks to help us get there.

In the meantime, it’s renewables that we need to improve to get us to net zero by 2050. These greener technologies still have issues we need to resolve. Read our interviews with engineers who are developing techniques that will allow us to recycle wind turbine blades and solar panels in an effort to halt these greener technologies from being dumped in landfill. We need to store surplus energy too, so check out our special issue looking at air storage, flow batteries and biobatteries. There is also the promise of chemical looping and the need for government to support its scale-up in order for engineers to create greener industries.

AI promises to help with process optimisation, data analysis, process simulation, problem solving, and information retrieval - but what do our readers think?

AI has been the hottest topic of 2023, so much so that “hallucinate” was selected as the Cambridge Dictionary’s word of the year. Excitement and fear have surrounded discussions about what influence the technology is having on our lives. If you missed our special issue in October, check out how leading thinkers in engineering expect generative AI will impact our profession, how it’s taught at university and is influencing assessment; how it could help with process safety, and what might come next. We also asked how you are already using the technology and your hopes and concerns for its use in the future.

People and skills

But let’s close this article by stepping away from the artificial, and the technological to focus on people that make up our profession. First off, IChemE president Nigel Hirst has focused his presidency on community which has seen IChemE make student membership free, launch a new schools outreach programme called DiscoverChemEng, and is set to launch a platform called IChemE Connect in the new year where members can interact, share views, and provide and receive support and mentoring. So, if you’re a student reading this who has not yet signed up for free membership, please do so here, and if you want to see some of the inspiring examples of volunteers helping schoolchildren embrace their inner engineers, check out the recent videos that IChemE made with ITN.

Finally, if you missed them, we published lots of articles this year to help bolster your professional development, take that next step on the career journey, and of course add to your CPD log.

We have top tips for students and lecturers on how to boost your learning and teaching.

There’s our step-by-step guide to getting your first job as a chemical engineer.

Insights on getting an industrial placement, and making the most of it.

The benefits of undertaking a PhD with perspectives from those who have since gone into academia, industry, and elsewhere.

The National Early Careers Committee shed light on the challenges and opportunities of life as an early career engineer.

How to communicate with non-engineers so you can do your job more effectively.

And we challenged you to consider whether you could become a charity trustee  to advance your career, and give to a cause you’re passionate about.

So, with that, I’ll say goodbye to 2023, and a big thanks to all our readers, and those who so generously volunteered their time to write for us this past year. We look forward to hearing from and speaking to you again when we return in 2024.

Article by Adam Duckett

Editor, The Chemical Engineer

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