Chemistry and Chemical Engineering
EPFL’s training in Chemistry and Chemical Engineering offers a broad spectrum of different approaches providing access to the incredible diversity of the atomic and molecular world. Chemists want to understand what matter is made of, from atoms to complex conformations of proteins. To this end, they learn how to master an arsenal of theoretical and experimental tools enabling them to penetrate the secrets of natural processes. They use this understanding of nature to protect it, to recreate and modify existing molecules, and to invent and produce artificial systems.
During their studies, the students in Chemistry and Chemical Engineering model the spatial configurations of given molecules from their computer. Through the interaction of light and matter, they study multiple spatial and temporal scale molecular systems. In the laboratory, they make base molecules react with each other in order to develop structures possessing specific properties. They also develop catalytic processes for carrying out selective reactions and perhaps design new processes for converting and storing energy.
A training that pairs in-depth scientific knowledge and engineering science is necessary for anyone wanting to specialize in industrial production. EPFL chemical engineers receive solid training in molecular chemistry and biology. They additionally are able to design and implement large-scale productions using physics, chemical, and biotechnological processes.
During the first year, classes concentrate on the basics of chemistry and biochemistry, as well as on the tools of mathematics and physics. During the second and third years, students tackle more specific subjects such as organic reactions, physical chemistry, coordination chemistry, and analytic methods. The third and final year includes optional modules which enable them to deepen their knowledge of different fields such as synthesis, biochemistry, modeling, and chemical engineering, and to prepare for the Master’s program of their choice. The program places great importance on practical work: throughout the studies, at least one day a week is set aside for laboratory work or projects.
Bachelor: simplified study plan
This Master’s program leads to the title of chemist and is designed for those going into research. It offers a huge range of specialized modules in the different fields of chemistry (analytical, biological, computational, inorganic, organic, physical, etc.).
This Master’s program leads to the title of chemical engineer and prepares for industrial work. It includes classes focusing on separation and reaction techniques, the development of processes, polymers, biotechnology, and management. A further component is a business internship.
Other programs are also open after graduating with the Bachelor’s degree, in particular some interdisciplinary Master’s programs.
Further information on Master’s study programs.
Please note that the information regarding the programs’ structure as well as the simplified study plan may be subject to change and that these are no legally binding. Only the official regulations and study plans are binding.
While the former is mainly dedicated to research, which takes place for the most part in laboratories – working to create new substances of interest to the pharmaceutical, perfume and food industries – the role of the latter is often to transfer such innovations to the scale of mass production in ways that are safe, economical and respectful of the environment.
Thus, graduates can make the most of their multidisciplinary expertise and their analytical thinking across the chemical industry, in fields such as health, biotechnology, the production and storage of renewable energy, or quality control for the production of materials.
Finally, a fair number of them choose to continue their academic careers by pursuing a doctoral thesis in Switzerland or abroad.
Something I really like about my job is to use my skills to help society and contribute to research, even if it is not easy every day: the process to develop vaccines and drugs and make them available on the market can be very long. Every step, every time that something works in the lab, is a small victory.
I discovered biotechnology when I was doing my Master’s degree and I found it very interesting from the beginning. When I graduated, I decided to do a PhD in this field before looking for a job. Today, I work for a company that develops vaccines and therapies against central nervous system diseases, like Alzheimer diseases. To give you an idea of the importance of this topic, by 2050 we expect numbers to triple to 135 million Alzheimer’s disease patients worldwide.
I work in the biophysical analytics department, where my job is to develop analytical methods to identify and quantify the compounds that are in our products – vaccines, antibodies and small molecules. All of them could possibly prevent or cure these diseases. When the methods are developed, they are used to measure and analyze products and make sure that they comply with the specifications. It can be products that are almost ready to be tested in clinical phase, or products that are still at the research stage.
I spend part of my time in the lab, but I do many other things too! I work on the documentation that is sent to the regulatory authorities, I take part in working groups, I supervise a technician, and I have contacts with external partners: every day is different!
I work as a chemical engineer, I am responsible for the thermal safety lab at Huntsman.
I work as a chemical engineer for Huntsman, a multinational company that produces high technology resins for the aeronautics and automotive industry. My job is to simulate, either on the computer or with experiments in the lab, the thermal behavior of the produces that are manufactured in our production plants (for example resins used to assemble Airbus and Boeing wings). If we know the manufacturing processes risks, we can implement safety measures – emergency measures in case of failures, better temperature control – to prevent accidents, or even create safer processes.
As a student, if you have the chance to do internships, take it! They will help you understand the different possibilities and job opportunities in chemistry, and you will have more time to think about what you are interested in (chemical worker, laboratory technician, chemist in applied research, chemical engineer in a private company, etc.). It can take some time to find a first job, and having some professional experience is a clear asset.
When I was a student, I created a website that is today number one in its field. I love playing the piano, I learned by myself when I was at high school and I decided to explain my learning method online. The website was very simple at the beginning, but I improved it and monetized it in 2010. Even if I could not earn enough to live only on it, it offered me a really comfortable situation as a student.
Grégory Widmer is also the founder of PianoFacile (www.pianofacile.com)