Chemical Engineering and Biotechnology
The Chemical Engineering and Biotechnology course at Cambridge enjoys a reputation for excellence in its teaching and research, regularly topping national league tables. The department is small enough for everyone to know each other, but large enough to provide excellent facilities.
Chemical Engineering and Biotechnology studied at Cambridge is a four-year course. Starting from 2023 it is a direct entry course. All applicants applying this year will no longer be able to apply to the previous Chemical Engineering course which required students to study Engineering or Natural Sciences in their first year of University.
The Chemical Engineering and Biotechnology course at Cambridge is a fully IChemE accredited 4-year undergraduate course leading to BA and MEng qualifications, with the option to graduate after three years with the BA degree. The Department has strong links with industry and graduates of the course are very much in demand.
The first year of the new Tripos, Part IA, introduces students to Pure and Applied Sciences and the three core focusses of the new tripos: Chemical Engineering, Biotechnology and Sustainability. Fundamental Mathematics, Chemistry and Cell Biology are introduced as well as the principles of product design.
In the second year, Part IB, the principles behind chemical and biochemical transformations are investigated. Students are taught how to use process simulation software and carry out process design calculations computationally.
Part II, taken in the third year, covers advanced Process Engineering and Biotechnology topics, detailed design principles for process operations. An important part of the third year is the design project in which students work in teams to design an industrial plant from scratch, applying what they have learnt in the course so far. This part qualifies the student for a BA degree. However, almost all students continue to Part III which is taken in the fourth year.
Part III is an advanced course in Chemical Engineering and Biotechnology and provides an opportunity to study the subject in greater depth, to consider recent advances and to undertake a major research project. Although, students may leave after Part II, with the BA Degree, those wishing to continue for a fourth year of study in Chemical Engineering, do not take their BA until after completion of Part III. The MEng Degree, in addition to the BA Degree, is awarded to those who obtain Honours in Part III Chemical Engineering. The MEng Degree satisfies the academic requirements for full membership to the Institution of Chemical Engineers, leading to Chartered Engineer status.
More details of the course content can be obtained on the department’s website.
The majority of teaching (lectures, practical, project work) occurs within the Department of Chemical Engineering & Biotechnology on the West Cambridge site. It is one of the newest department buildings in Cambridge and offers students a smart, contemporary space in which to learn, research and collaborate with others.
At Magdalene we aim to take 3-4 chemical engineers per year. College teaching takes the form of hour long supervisions in groups of 2 or 3 given by Chemical Engineering Fellows of the College and additional supervisors. Undergraduates would expect to receive about two or three hours of supervision per week. In addition at least twice a term students receive a 1 to 1 meeting with their Director of Studies. There is normally an annual dinner for all undergraduates reading chemical engineering at Magdalene as well as several other social events throughout the academic year including a termly tea and cake afternoon where students can enjoy a brief moment of calm and catch up with other chemical engineers in College and their Director of Studies, which has proven popular with undergraduates.
Many Chemical Engineering and Biotechnology graduates go on to work for international companies and the opportunities for travel and working abroad are widespread. Graduates from the Department have reached very senior positions in a wide range of companies; their achievements have clearly been based on technical expertise. They have the opportunity to play an important role in global issues such as energy, the environment and sustainable provision. Typical employment activities include, energy, utilities and the environment, food and personal goods information technology, pharmaceuticals, consultancy and petrochemicals, whilst some continue in higher education to undertake research. The multi-disciplinary and quantitative nature of the subject has resulted in some graduates being successful in finance and the city including diverse fields such as journalism, banking and law.
Potential Chemical and Biochemical Engineers are encouraged to obtain industrial sponsorship and the College has an open attitude concerning taking a year off following school to gain relevant experience before coming up to Cambridge.
Chemical and Biochemical engineers develop processes for making, separating and recycling chemicals, biochemical, bioproducts and materials for the benefit of society. This requires skills in a wide range of scientific disciplines. We are looking therefore for applicants who can demonstrate a mature interest in such matters, and have taken appropriate steps to familiarise themselves with associated areas (energy, environment healthcare products, sustainability, risk and safety etc.). This is likely to involve some general knowledge of scientific areas in addition to those studied at A-level (or equivalent). Chemical and Biochemical engineers need to size and cost processes, so a high level of competence in numeracy and order of magnitude is essential supported by skills in applied mathematics.
Chemical and Biochemical engineers need to solve new problems; so we are looking for people who are excellent problem solvers, who can think “out of the box”, propose novel solutions to unfamiliar situations and make sensible approximations and assumptions when no data is available.
Finally we are looking for an eagerness and willingness to learn, openness to new ideas, and the intellectual curiosity to seek out more.
Applicants in Chemical Engineering and Biotechnology are recommended to become familiar with the material on the Whynotchemeng website.
Prospective candidates should normally be studying Mathematics and Chemistry at A-level (or equivalent), as well as Further Mathematics if it is offered at your school or college (or AS-level Further Mathematics if that is available but the full A-level is not). Other options, wherever possible should be, in order of preference, Physics or Biology. Please note that we will still be happy to consider applications from candidates who do not have Further Mathematics, where this is because that subject is unavailable at your school or college.
The typical offer for entry to the Chemical Engineering and Biotechnology course is A*A*A at A-level. Students taking the IB will typically be asked for an overall score of 42 with 7,7,6 at Higher Level.
IB applicants starting the new IB Mathematics syllabus are expected to take IB Higher Level 'Analysis and Approaches' for any course where Mathematics is a requirement. If this option is not available at your school, please contact the College for further advice and guidance.
Interviews and Written Assessment
Candidates will normally have two interviews, and each interview will normally last for approximately 20-25 minutes. The main function of the interview is to assess the applicant's aptitude to study this subject with a high degree of success. In particular, the multi-disciplinary nature of the subject suits a flexible and enquiring mind, whereas a number of aspects demand numerical skills. Candidates would be expected to have some background knowledge of the nature of chemical engineering and the range of areas to which the discipline can be applied. In addition, they would be expected to be conversant with the subjects they are currently studying and to impart enthusiasm for their academic studies and their associated activities.
Applicants will also need to take a written assessment. The assessment for Chemical Engineering and Biotechnology, the NSAA, is a pre-registration required assessment. This means that you will have to register to sit the assessment at an assessment centre near to you (for most applicants this will be your school or college). Registration for the pre-registration required assessment is separate from your UCAS application and it is essential that you are registered by your centre before the deadline, which is September 30. See the University Undergraduate Admissions website for further information about registering for the assessment and more details about the format of the assessment, including some sample questions. Please note that your performance in the written assessment will not be considered in isolation, but will be taken into account alongside all the other elements of your application.