01 October 2013

Chemeca 2013 - day one highlights

Chemeca 2013 logo

Challenging tomorrow

Day one of Chemeca 2013 saw a diverse range of speakers covering topics such as industrial challenges and mega structures, chemical engineering’s image problem, how to improve the gender gap within the chemical engineering profession, and how science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) can contribute to a better society, economy and nation.

In his opening address, Australia’s chief scientist Ian Chubb AC, reminded us of the important role engineers have in securing the long-term prosperity for Australia by proclaiming: “That without plastics and chemicals, Australia would grind to a holt!”

He then went on to highlight the need to adopt the US approach of “inspired risk taking” so that Australia can leverage a better place in the world, regardless of its size.

Chubb said: “We can’t leave anything to chance. There is a need to improve our percentage of business innovation aimed at international and domestic markets, as the bulk of this is currently kept within business – you can’t have a resilient country if we only look inward.”

Chubb admonished that we also need to change our culture, build a better integration of systems to build STEM programs and compliment business research innovation.

He continued: “STEM will boost workforce quality and prepare you for a lifetime of critical thinking and purpose. The jobs of the future will require STEM qualified people and to do this, we need to educate those who sit on the sidelines to have a better understanding of it.”

Chubb’s closing comments were that we need to organise ourselves with purpose and with practical outcomes in mind.

Chubb concluded by saying: “We need to be connected and better organised between business and education – connect with the highest levels of government and to work towards not just having a plan, but to have it implemented!”

Fundamental role

IChemE president and chair of GB Health and Safety Executive, Judith Hackitt CBE also played a significant role in the day’s proceedings with her lecture highlighting the fundamental role chemical engineers will have in delivering solutions to tomorrow’s challenges.

Hackitt said: ”Energy, food, water and health are areas that are critical to the quality of human life and its challenges and are what IChemE’s work is focused on.”

Hackitt revisited the challenges of yesterday, particularly being a female in the early 1970’s when wanting to pursue studies in science was against cultural norms. She also highlighted whynotchemeng – IChemE’s careers campaign to promote chemical engineering which has dramatically helped to increase the number of students enrolling onto UK accredited degree programmes over the past decade.

IChemE’s president says that we need to ensure chemical engineers are able to face the challenges of the future, particularly when the rate of technology change appears to be exponential and impacts on the way many industrial processes are carried out.

She said: “Future generations of chemical engineers will need to be resilient and dynamic, but also they will need to be able to constantly adapt to change.”

With a commitment to Chemical Engineering Matters, Hackitt called on academics to make a difference to the profession and help develop the chemical engineers of the future.

“Chemical engineering is essential for sustainable living in the 21st Century and beyond, and I am confident that we will make the technology leaps required in the future.

“Engineers don’t exist in a vacuum and we must engage with employers, educators, the research community and with kindred organisations across the STEM landscape in order to find common cause.”

Hackitt identifies safety as a major challenge stating there is no room for complacency: “We have an inability to learn from past failures, and even past successes. We even seem to be pretty inefficient at passing knowledge on to our peers and to future generations.

“Knowledge transfer is crucial to the success of the Chemical Engineering Matters initiative and we need to find new ways to pass it on”, Hackitt concluded.

Chemeca is the annual three day conference for the Australian and New Zealand community of chemical and process engineers and industrial chemists who come together to recognise achievement, share industry advancements and lessons learned. This year the conference is being held in Brisbane, Queensland, Australia.

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IChemE is a registered charity in England & Wales (214379), and a charity registered in Scotland (SC 039661).