University of Cambridge



Chemical Engineering

Chemical engineers design and operate industrial processes that convert raw materials into valuable products. The need for more sophisticated products and sustainable processes means chemical engineers are in great demand. Our multidisciplinary course provides the training.

UCAS code via Engineering H810 MEng/CEE
via Natural Sciences H813 MEng/CENS

Duration Four years

Colleges Available at all Colleges

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Contact details 01223 334777


Chemical Engineering at Cambridge

Our course concentrates on the scientific principles that underpin modern chemical and biochemical engineering. The aim is to produce graduates that meet the needs of today's process industries by providing a thorough understanding of the subject, technical competence, and transferable skills. The underlying theory is complemented by a series of lectures and projects that teach process design and chemical product design.

We have strong links with industry. The course is supported by a consortium of 10 industrial companies which provide input on content and assist with teaching. These links also mean that there are opportunities for vacation placements with some of the world's top companies.

Teaching and facilities

Our Department enjoys a reputation for excellence in its teaching and research, regularly topping national league tables. The Department will be moving to a new purpose-built building in 2015 that has been designed with an emphasis on the importance of high quality teaching facilities.

Qualifications and accreditation

It's possible to graduate with a BA degree after three years. However, virtually all students stay for the fourth year leading to the BA and MEng degrees progression to the fourth year is dependent on satisfactory performance). The four-year course is accredited by the Institution of Chemical Engineers, meaning that after graduation you can apply for Chartered Engineer status once you have four years of relevant experience without taking further exams.

After Cambridge

Within chemical engineering there are many well-paid career opportunities. You might work as a field engineer, be part of a research team, or become a senior manager within industry. Chemical engineers can also easily secure jobs outside the discipline because of their broad range of skills. About 50 per cent of our graduates go into the chemical, process and food industries; 20 per cent go into finance and management; and 15 per cent go into further education and research.

Course outline

You're taught primarily through lectures, which are supported by projects, laboratory classes, supervisions and coursework.

In a typical week you attend 10 lectures and have two supervisions. You also undertake fortnightly projects.

Year 1 (Part IA)

Your choice of route

Chemical engineers spend their first year studying either Engineering or Natural Sciences. These routes provide equally good preparation for becoming a chemical engineer, and are taken up by a similar number of students.

Year 2 (Part IB)

Introduction to core chemical engineering

From Year 2, you're based within the Department of Chemical Engineering and Biotechnology. You study compulsory topics within five themes:

  • fundamentals – fluid mechanics, mass and heat transfer, thermodynamics
  • process operations – reactors, separators, biotechnology
  • process systems – safety, economics
  • mathematical methods – mathematics
  • enabling topics – depending on your first-year subject, you have additional lectures and practicals on either chemistry or mechanical engineering

You're assessed on these topics at the end of the year by four three-hour written exams.

You also take laboratory classes on fluid mechanics and undertake regular assessed project work. Towards the end of the year, you perform the mechanical design of an item of process equipment such as a heat exchanger.

Year 3 (Part IIA)

Continuation of core chemical engineering

The third year includes further compulsory topics within four themes:

  • fundamentals – fluid mechanics, heat transfer, thermodynamics
  • process operations – reactors, separators, bioprocessing, particle processing
  • process systems – process dynamics and control process synthesis, safety
  • enabling topics – materials, statistics

You perform assessed project work throughout the year, and sit four three-hour written exams at the start of the third term.

After the written exams, you undertake a Design Project that lasts five weeks of full-time work. This project is carried out in groups and concerns the design of a modern industrial process. You take into account all aspects of engineering design, including specification of equipment and control procedures, and consider safety aspects, environmental impact and economic performance. The Design Project brings together all the taught subject matter whilst giving you the opportunity to work in a team on an open-ended problem.

Year 4 (Part IIB)

Choice of advanced topics

You undertake a project on Chemical Product Design and take a compulsory paper on environmental aspects of chemical engineering. You choose six further advanced topics from a list of optional papers which changes every year to reflect the research interests of academic staff. Past examples have included:

  • biopharmaceuticals
  • modern metrology
  • electrochemical engineering
  • particle technology

You also choose a 'broadening material' paper which is on a topic that's useful to chemical engineers without being part of the discipline, such as a foreign language or entrepreneurship.

In addition, you undertake a research project. This might involve experimental, theoretical and/or computational work. Some projects support ongoing research activities within the Department, while others are 'blue sky' investigations leading to new research programmes. Several are sponsored by interested companies and successful projects sometimes lead to students becoming authors of publications in scientific literature.

Entry requirements

Typical offers require
A Level:
IB: 40-41 points, with 776 at Higher Level
For other qualifications, see our main Entrance requirements pages.

Course requirements

Engineering route
Essential A Level/IB Higher Level Mathematics, Chemistry and Physics
Desirable A Level/IB Higher Level Further Mathematics

Natural Sciences route
Essential A Level/IB Higher Level Mathematics and Chemistry
Desirable AS/IB Standard Level or above in one or more of Physics, Biology, Further Mathematics

Check College websites for College-specific requirements. See also Entrance requirements and our Subject Matters leaflet for additional advice about general requirements for entry, qualifications and offers.

Admissions tests and written work

Please see the Admissions Tests and written work for Engineering and/or Natural Sciences.

Some Colleges require applicants to take the TSA, and/or a Chemical Engineering Interview.

How to apply

If you are interested in applying for this course, please see our Applying section for more details.

Further Resources

Find out more about Chemical Engineering at Cambridge

  • Course website - Explore Chemical Engineering in more detail on the course website.
  • Course FAQ - Frequently Asked Questions about the Chemical Engineering course.
  • Course guide - A detailed guide to the Chemical Engineering degree.

Tools to help you with your Chemical Engineering application

Chemical Engineering and your future

  • Why study chemical engineering? - A list of reasons for studying Chemical Engineering, including the great career prospects.
  • Graduate profiles - Some recent graduates reflect on their experience studying Chemical Engineering at Cambridge and on their subsequent careers.
  • Transferable skills - A guide to the transferable skills you can develop during the course of a Chemical Engineering degree.

The student experience

Non-Cambridge resources

  • - An independent site offering a range of resources and information for applicants interested in Chemical Engineering as a degree and as a career.

Unistats info

Contextual Information

From September 2012, every undergraduate course of more than one year's duration will have a Key Information Set (KIS). The KIS allows you to compare 17 pieces of information about individual courses at different higher education institutions.

However, please note that superficially similar courses often have very different structures and objectives, and that the teaching, support and learning environment that best suits you can only be determined by identifying your own interests, needs, expectations and goals, and comparing them with detailed institution- and course-specific information.

We recommend that you look thoroughly at the course and University information contained on these webpages and consider coming to visit us on an Open Day, rather than relying solely on statistical comparison.

You may find the following notes helpful when considering information presented by the KIS.

  1. The KIS relies on superficially similar courses being coded in the same way. Whilst this works on one level, it leads to some anomalies. For example, Music courses and Music Technology courses can have exactly the same code despite being very different programmes with quite distinct educational and career outcomes.

    Any course which combines several disciplines (as many courses at Cambridge do) tends to be compared nationally with courses in just one of those disciplines, and in such cases a KIS comparison may not be an accurate or fair reflection of the reality of either. For example, you may find that when considering a degree which embraces a range of disciplines such as biology, physics, chemistry and geology (for instance, Natural Sciences at Cambridge), the comparison provided is with courses at other institutions that primarily focus on just one (or a smaller combination) of those subjects.

  2. Whilst the KIS makes reference to some broad types of financial support offered by institutions, it cannot compare packages offered by different institutions. Different students have different circumstances and requirements, and you should weigh up what matters to you most: level of fee; fee waivers; means-tested support such as bursaries; non-means-tested support such as academic scholarships and study grants; and living costs such as accommodation, travel.

  3. The KIS provides a typical cost of private (ie non-university) accommodation. This is very difficult to estimate as prices and properties vary. University accommodation can be substantially cheaper, and if you are likely to live in College for much or all of the duration of your course (as is the case at Cambridge), then the cost of private accommodation will be of less or no relevance for you. The KIS also provides the typical annual cost of university accommodation and the number of beds available. Note that since most universities offer a range of residential accommodation, you should check with institutions about the likelihood of securing a room at a price that suits your budget. Knowing the number of beds available is not necessarily useful: it may be much more important to find out if all students are guaranteed accommodation.

  4. Time in lectures, seminars and similar can vary enormously by institution depending on the structure of the course, and the quality of such contact time should be the primary consideration.

  5. Whilst starting salaries can be a useful measure, they do not give any sense of career trajectory or take account of the voluntary/low paid work that many graduates undertake initially in order to gain valuable experience necessary/advantageous for later career progression.

The above list is not exhaustive and there may be other important factors that are relevant to the choices that you are making, but we hope that this will be a useful starting point to help you delve deeper than the face value of the KIS data.