Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering

Official blog of the Lehigh University Chemical Engineers


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Resources Beyond the Textbook

Let’s face it, sometimes you have a professor that you don’t love or the textbook explanation doesn’t quite do it for you. In these cases, it’s not like the world stops. The assignment is still due, the test is still tomorrow, office hours have past, so what can you possibly do to learn the material?

There are a few solutions that I can propose.

1. Phone a friend. This could be an easy fix if you understand the general concept but there is a specific problem or issue you are struggling with. If you are super lost, you’re friend is most likely going to be annoyed and you aren’t going to learn anything.

2. Ask your TA. You’re TA is a better resource for large conceptual issues you’re having, however, they don’t have all the time in the world to sit down and ensure you understand it, so it’s imperative you give them your undivided attention when you do get a chance to sit down with them.

3. Google it. This is almost too simple, but some of the most affective tutoring I have received is from good, old Google. My favorite thing to do is to watch 5-10 minute youtube video explanations. They cover the one topic I am having issues with in a clear, concise way with an example to finish it off. Nine times out of ten, I come out with a better understanding of the topic.

4. Sit down with your Professor and talk it out. If you are really struggling and none of the above have worked, it’s time you had some one-on-one time with your professor to ask for extra resources, problems, etc. to see if it will help you. You could also take this time to ask if they know of anyone willing to tutor for the specific class, and usually they do.

The resources are definitely available, but you just have to be willing to put in the extra effort to find it! And remember, it’s almost Friday!


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It’s the Little Things

So I know for the most part this blog is supposed to be super science-y and specifically about chemical engineering, but me being the true rebel that I am am diverging a bit to talk about becoming the best version of yourself. I hate to break it to you, but college is just as stressful as it is fun. Sure you have a ton more free-time than in high school, but if you misuse that free time, you’re behind in a class. Sure you only have two tests per class per semester, but if you bomb one, you can count on getting a low grade for the semester. Sure there are fun things to do all the time, but if you don’t sleep you’ll get burnt out. Each one of these things has a domino affect on your life.

While that is a bit scary to think about, if you mess up the only thing you can do is try one day at a time to get back to where you need and want to be. I’d like to think I finally have college figured out. Go to office hours, study a little every day, try to be healthy, etc, But once midterms come around or you get into a fight with your friend, it’s hard to stay focused on what is the most important, which is getting an education that lays the foundation for the literal rest of your life. So the next time you diverge from what you think you should be doing, take a moment to breathe and re-evaluate, because soon enough you will be back on track.

For me, I finally got my schedule down with school and work, so something I wanted to work on is going to the gym more. College is really all a balance. To keep everything in check, when you want to add something, you may need to take away something else. For the past week, I started going to the gym every day, which is about an hour and a half time commitment. Because of this, I gave up watching an episode or two on netflix. This was a personal win on my part because not only am I no longer watching netflix, I am using that time for something much more productive. Furthermore, it has become a part of my daily routine and hopefully will stay that way,

You might think going to the gym isn’t really a huge deal, but it’s the small changes that you keep adding that will eventually get you to the place you want to be. My next step is removing coffee from my daily life. Just to prove how difficult this is going to be, I haven’t had any for one day and I already have a headache. If I can make it the rest of the day without caffeine, that will be another personal win, but if I give in, I can try again tomorrow. As long as you’re willing to keep putting in the effort, you can always improve yourself.

Oh and before I go, my dad just texted me this joke:

What do you do with chemists when they die?

You barium.

Have a good week engineering friends!


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Strategies and Tips to Distillation Column Control

41KWuHvo9NL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_This book written by one of the most pretigious Lehigh Chemical Engineering professor Bill Luyben is like the Holy Bible to distillation column control. It’s colloquially known as “the blue book”, and it’s been read and passed on from hands to hands. Similarly to its infamous brother, “the yellow book” which was used in the first semester in process design, it covers a ton of detail and everything you can learn so much from going through page to page. Here I would like to share with you some insights on distillation column controls strategies.

There’re tons of distillation column control schemes out there. It’s very hard to decide which control scheme to use, especially choosing the ones that works with your column and ones that work correctly. Most importantly, you must choose what you like to control to meet your control objectives. For my project, I have to ensure the product meets a certain required purity, and certain required vapor distillate flow rate. My process can be considered a binary process because the main components in this separation processes are Ethylene Oxide and water.

Generally, an effective operation of a distillation column needs to consider the control of the following variables:

  • Composition of the distillate stream, xD to ensure product quality
  • Composition of the bottoms stream, xB to also ensure product quality
  • Liquid level in the condenser reflux drum to maintain inventory and satisfy material balance
  • Liquid level in the sump to also maintain inventory and satisfy material balance
  • Column pressure to ensure equilibrium.

These variable should always be controlled in a distillation column. However, how you want these to be controlled is up to you. However, there’s a few rules that applies to most cases. For example, it’s always a good idea to flow control the smallest product flow. In my process there is a relative small distillate flow rate in comparison to a large bottoms flow rate. The material balance must satisfy around the condenser drum. In order to make sure the liquid level remains constant, a level controller must be used in the reflux drum. For the same reason, a level controller is required on the sump with the manipulated variable being the bottoms flow rate.

It’ll make a lot of sense to use a energy balance control scheme when there’s a small reflux ratio. If the reflux rate is small in comparison to the distillate rate, then a relatively small change in the distillate rate will ensure a good condenser level control. To control the composition of the product, a on-line composition control is not often used because it’s very expensive and unreliable. One typical way to do this is to control the temperature of the stripping section of the column.

Fortunately, my column falls into one the standard categories, which has made it easier to choose from. However, right now it’s still in progress. I’ll upload it once it’s finished and ready.


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Guest Speaker Dr. Ray Glemser

For my Leadership Development class we always invite guest leaders to come in and share their life experience with us. And we were very fortunate to have Dr. Ray Glemser to come to Lehigh University as a guest speaker.

glemserlogo-mediumRay Glemser is currently the CEO of Glemser Technologies. Glemser Technologies is a leader in the design, development and implementation of content management solutions for life sciences companies. It provides IT solution to especially pharmaceutical business processes. Their office is in North side Bethlehem across from the Lehigh campus. It’s interesting to realize that his wife was my former landlord at the off campus house I used to live in. And the professor of this class is the landlord of the off campus house my friend lives in.

Ray is a Lehigh alum. He received his doctoral’s degree in 3D tolerance analysis from Lehigh Univeristy. While he is in graduate school here, Prof. Emory Zimmers was his mentor. Ray has learned quite a lot from his mentor, including leadership styles and life philosophies. He began his presentation by providing us a review of his life events including the times he was at Lehigh. There are three things that made him special and stand out from the other. The three traits are that he worked harder and longer than the others; he kept himself interested and motivated by surrounding himself with the right people and keeping up with schedules. He was able smart enough to see patterns in what he was doing and he was able to learn quicker than the others.

One of the most important pieces of advice that Ray gave was that never bring family into the business. Ray learnt that when family members were brought into the business, the business dynamics will become very unstable. If the leader tried to keep things straight business, then family relations will suffer. This is because family members tend to develop a sense of entitlement that other normal employees don’t have. Therefore, families must stay out of the business. Also, the case study was very effective because all three cases were very challenging and interesting.

The presentation could be more meaningful if Ray had given more stories on how he was able to manage to never work for anybody in his career. It might be his natural ability to lead others because he is very knowledgeable in what he does. I would be very interested to hear his suggestions on what I should do now to get myself closer to become a great leader like he is. Last, I like how he said one should dress like a leader. I thought he was very well dressed and tailored in his suit.


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A Taste of Distillation Column Control

In the second semester of my senior year, I have to apply my process control knowledge onto my senior design project. Last semester, my group and I finished the design for a Ethylene Oxide production plant. This semester, we’re going to put some controllers onto the system to make sure the plant operates under control without explosions.

One of the most important unit of my project is the distillation column. Distillation column is a big deal in general. Roughly speaking 80,000 distillation column are in operation world-wide. In addition, 50% of them are in the United States. Also, the distillation column is very essential to process industries, contributing towards $6 trillion dollars each year.

The first step to controlling a distillation column is to determine its control objectives. The control objectives comes in many different flavors. For example, it can be plain vanilla process safety. It can also be for other control objectives such as meeting regulatory requirements, satisfying process constraints and optimization reasons. Any control design must be able reject process disturbances within a reasonable time.

Here’s a example of one of the fundamental control schemes:

RVThis distillation column has 16 total stages. FC is the flow controller that is controlling the feed stream flow rate into the column by adjusting the valve opening. It is typically reverse acting because as the flow increases the valve needs to be close down. The two LCs are the level controllers each controlling the liquid level in the sump and the condenser drum, by increasing and decreasing the valve level on the exit stream. The sump level controller is direct acting because as the liquid level accumulates the valve on the bottoms stream needs to be opened more to let it out. The condenser drum level is also direct acting for the same reason: The liquid distillate needs to open more in case there’s too much accumulation in the condenser drum. The column stage temperature is controlled by the reboiler duty. If the temperature gets too hot, the reboiler duty needs to be lowered so less heat is generated (reverse acting). Another flow controller is used to control the reflux rate back into the column. Lastly, the column pressure is controlled by the cooling water flow rate into the condenser.


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SASE ’15 Northeast Regional Conference

I’m happy to announce that this past weekend was the the 2015 SASE Northeast Regional Conference. The Conference was held at Boston University over Valentine’s Day weekend, and it consisted of many helpful workshops and networking opportunities.Website HeaderSome of the personal skills workshop include case studies with Accenture, professional presentation, rapid product development, and project management. Also this time, we were very fortunate to have the keynote speaker Wayne Chang to speak at the conference. Wayne Chang is a entrepreneur who currently serve as the Head of Product Marketing and Growth Strategy for Mobile Platform at Twitter. At the end of the conference, you get the opportunity to network with corporate sponsors such as GE, Accenture, Lattice, P&G, Draper Laboratory, and many others. Other events like resume marathon and career panels were also going at the same time. Schools in the same region include Penn, Drexel, Rutgers, Stevens Institute of Technology, MIT.

One of the most important aspects of the regional conference was onsite interviews. At the National Conference last fall, a couple of our members receive onsite interviews and one of them received an internship offer from them.  Overall, it was supposed to be a very helpful experience. However, due to weather issues (snowstorm) in Boston. SASE at Lehigh decided to cancel the trip in concern of member safety.


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Office Hours

Alright. So if you’re like me, you think you are totally, 100% capable of doing well on your own. You don’t need any help and even if you do need help, you actually don’t because you won’t ask for it. My academic performance so far has been fair. Some classes better than others, but overall pretty good. Those pretty good grades hardly reflect the amount of work I put in, the stress, the tears (oh yes, the tears), the time in the library, and years taken off of my life due to the immense anxiety I was facing. I knew I was missing something, so I begrudgingly went to an academic counselor and asked for some help.

The answer was simple: go to office hours. Now, I know they may seem scary, but they really, truly aren’t. I decided to go because I needed to boost my grades and really grasp the material that was being presented as I learned it, not the “go to class and sort of get it in hopes I would somehow magically understand it some day hopefully before the test” logic I was going by before. I can honestly say, I can already see what a HUGE difference they are making for me.

There are two types of office hours: the ones held by your professor and the ones held by their teaching assistants. In my experience, I have found they are both useful for separate things.

Your professor’s office hours are usually empty because students are scared to go. I was at least. But, As I started going, I realized this time was useful to go over lecture notes, review in-class problems, ask about past homeworks or quizzes, and really get in-depth answers and explanations. Furthermore, I am usually the only one there, so I can stop him at any moment and ask for clarification. This is essential to my understanding of the otherwise difficult course material.

The teaching assistant’s office hours are useful in the sense that they help with current homework, review for exams, give previous test problems, and support what the professor has already discussed.

By the time the first test came around, I went to a bunch of office hours, and had felt really prepared in half the time, stress, and misery I usually endured when studying for tests. I know that for the rest of my college career, I will be attending office hours, and you really should too. Not only do they make you learn the information more effectively, but they make you look good in the eyes of you professor!

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