Centenary blog: Spotlight on education and technology

Centenary blog: Spotlight on education and technology

1st March 2022

Every month throughout our centenary year, we will be asking an IChemE member to write a blog about each of the centenary themes. The themes have been selected to highlight and celebrate the enormous contribution that chemical engineering has made to society over the last century.

IChemE Fellow John Kenez, who was part of the editorial panel looking at education and technology, picks out his choices of elements to celebrate, communicate and inspire.

John Kenez, Process Consultant for Nuffield Group

Name: John Kenez

Job title and organisation: Process Consultant for Nuffield Group (semi-retired)

IChemE role: Member of the education and technology editorial panel for the centenary and Professional Reviewer of applications for IChemE Chartered Chemical Engineer status.

Bio: Following a degree in chemical engineering from Monash University, Australia, John joined Monsanto as a process engineer, gaining Chartered Chemical Engineer status in 1980. He then spent three decades working for Davy McKee Pacific in process engineering roles on oil and gas and refinery clean fuels projects.

The world’s first chemical engineering course was delivered by George E. Davis, often referred to as the father of chemical engineering, at the University of Manchester, UK, in 1887. The nature of chemical engineering education and training has, of course, evolved over time as the subject and technology aids such as computing capability have developed. Today, chemical engineering graduates are highly prized, working in such diverse sectors as energy, food and drink, water, pharmaceuticals, transport and the environment.

Chemical engineers of the future will be dealing with complex problems, some of which we can’t yet understand, and students need to be trained accordingly. Along with the traditional disciplines, data analytics and digitalisation will be important, as will discussions on ethics, philosophy, and communication.

Being asked to select only three elements from within the education and technology theme to celebrate, communicate and inspire, the vision of the centenary volunteer committee, was challenging to say the least, but here are my highlights. 


  • The birth of chemical engineering began with George E. Davis’ 1901 Handbook, referencing chemical engineering as the assembly of physical operations (later labelled as unit operations, by American chemical engineer Arthur D Little in 1915. It was some years later in 1934 that the eponymous ‘Perry’s Chemical Engineers’ Handbook’ was published, a “go to” reference book for every chemical engineering student, now in its 9th edition.

  • One of the great achievements of chemical engineering has been its success in taking a laboratory scale batch process and converting it into large scale continuous industrial facilities. Product separation from unreacted feed and recycle streams, requiring their own storage and supply systems, complicate the process scheme requiring a simplifying flow diagram to communicate the process – a key skill to be learnt by a chemical engineer.

  • The establishment of IChemE which in 1945 set the basis for membership (a degree course in chemical engineering including a design project) for chemical engineers both in the UK and other countries which met membership requirements. Today there are many routes to membership for chemical engineers across the globe as education and training has evolved.


  • IChemE served as a conduit for chemical engineers to learn about new aspects of the booming oil and gas industry of the 1960s and 1970s, with regular technical meetings held in London, UK, where many of the major engineering contractors were based. These activities not only provided a useful opportunity for professional and social interaction but were the beginnings of continuing professional development (CPD) in the industry.

  • IChemE has also provided a focal point for the expansion of chemical engineering courses across the world. In Malaysia there are currently 25 universities offering chemical engineering programmes with approximately 2,500 graduates yearly. Following a visit from Mr H. Fossett, a UK member of IChemE, in 1961, an interim committee was formed to clarify the wishes of chemical engineers in Victoria, Australia. By 2001 the Victorian state branch of IChemE hosted the 6th World Congress of Chemical Engineering in Melbourne, under direction of the late Ian Shedden and Professor David Wood, to worldwide acclaim.

  • The great advances in chemical engineering education and technology began in the 1970s, coincident with, and perhaps triggered by, the great “space race”. There is little doubt that the space race was a driver for advancement in computer science, materials science and engineering design and technology. A major driver of this development was the availability of computer-based process simulations on every process engineer’s desk, although this was coupled with a greater responsibility on individual engineers to make sure the computer outputs make sense.


  • From a base of less than 1% female chemical engineering students in the early 1970s to current participation rates by women of over 30%, chemical engineering has become the most popular course for female engineers of all the disciplines. At the same time, chemical engineers are contributing to fields outside of traditional oil, gas and chemicals, including food & drink, water, pharmaceuticals, transport and the environment.

  • Owen Potter became one of the new breed of chemical engineering educators when initially appointed as reader at Melbourne University in 1959, later taking the foundation chair at the new Monash University in 1963 where he developed the department into a centre of chemical engineering excellence.

  • Chemical engineering at the University of Cape Town (UCT), South Africa, celebrated its 100th anniversary in December 2020, second only to the University of Queensland, Australia, in the southern hemisphere to reach this milestone. The university has successfully directed its research to sustainability thinking particularly in relation to African water security and its response to climate change. 

Thank you for reading my highlights. I encourage you to visit the education and technology section of the ChemEng Evolution website to find out more.

The education and technology panel discussion entitled ‘Shaping the future of Chemical Engineering Education' was held on 9 March 2022. Watch the recording here. For more information on IChemE's centenary, visit www.chemengevolution.org or follow #ChemEngEvolution on social media.