In celebration of all things chemical engineering, we met up with QEPrize Ambassador, Filipa Gomes, to find out a bit more about what chemical engineers get up to.
Filipa, you’re a chemical engineer, but what do you actually do?
I work as a simulation engineer at Genesis, providing consultancy services mainly to the oil and gas industry.
Day-to-day, I use my chemical engineering and fluid dynamics background to simulate the behaviour of fluids in different conditions. These range from the extraction of oil and gas from drilling rigs to mimicking how fluids flow through complex pieces of equipment.
The projects I work on require me to use computational fluid dynamics (CFD) to evaluate how fluids behave. Some of the problems I address look at consequence modelling (what might happen if things went wrong!), temperature management, production and flow assurance and hydrodynamics. Most of these projects include a strong technical safety component to make sure engineers comply with standards and regulations.
Can you tell us what a typical day looks like?
The best thing about consultancy in chemical engineering is that every day can be very different.
Some days I spend my time meeting with team members or clients to discuss different projects and technical issues that I’m trying to solve. Other days I spend building 3D models and setting up my simulations, or developing tools to optimise future projects.
One thing is always common: as an engineer, I need my problem-solving skills to be sharp and often the solutions proposed can be quite inventive!
What was it that drew you to studying chemical engineering?
I remember being very confused when I had to choose my degree: I liked maths, chemistry, science and physics almost equally. At first, I was thinking of following a career in pharmaceutical sciences but then my love for maths and physics spoke louder. I always loved to solve problems and it became clear to me that engineering was the way forward.
Chemical engineering came as a logical choice as it was the only engineering course that had the chemistry component. I was surprised to find later on in my degree that chemistry was not my favourite subject anymore and relieved to discover that not all chemical engineers need to be experts in chemistry!
What’s your favourite part about working in this industry?
The applications of chemical engineering in the oil and gas industry are so diverse that we often find the work of other chemical engineers completely different to what we do.
I think the best bit is being able to interact with all these professionals from different technological backgrounds, and apply new solutions to existing challenges. I have worked on projects for clients around the globe and love the dynamics of dealing with people from different cultures.
You must get to work on some fascinating projects. Which one would you say has been the most interesting?
As a consultant, I am lucky to be involved in a wide range of projects, often at a very fast pace. It is hard for me to pick one project only as the most interesting!
I have helped optimise the layouts of a major oil and gas project, for both onshore and offshore fields, by determining the toxic and flammable risks from drilling and process equipment. On another project, I performed explosion simulations to determine the design criteria for the blast wall required at an offshore platform.
This is what I love about chemical engineering in consultancy: I can never get bored of the work I do!
Is there anything you’re particularly proud to have achieved?
Since I love what I do, it is easy to feel proud of many achievements in my career, as small as they may seem to others. They may be moments like completing a particularly difficult assignment, getting recognised or praised for a project or presentation or overcoming one of your own personal barriers. I believe this capacity of self-recognition to be the secret to a happy, balanced and fulfilled career.
I was very proud when I attained my PhD, as it was the result of four years of (sometimes very lonely) work. As a woman in engineering and pregnant with my first child, I was also particularly proud to perform my work above and beyond my laid out yearly expectations before maternity leave, and to have my efforts valued and recognised by both colleagues and clients during the eight months of pregnancy I was working.
Who would you name as being your engineering heroes and people you aspire to?
My engineering heroes are the unsung heroes of major discoveries. It is well known that behind the most famous discoveries there is not a single name but most likely a team of engineers and researchers. For example, who thought about making a plane fly? Or getting a rocket to the moon? Engineers are often responsible for the little steps and connecting the dots -their findings can impact the world and generations to come!
Finally, why should people consider getting into chemical engineering?
Chemical engineering has an infinite number of applications. This makes it very appealing for people concerned about their future careers. Even with changes in the job market, chemical engineers can be flexible, adaptable and have many transferable skills allowing us to change industries easily.
If you are fascinated by producing new materials; understanding how biological systems work; finding alternative and sustainable energies and ways to store them; and discovering how to sustainably get clean water, then chemical engineering is a great career option!