Technical Presentations at the AIChE Annual Student Conference

February 4, 2019

The 2018 Annual AIChE Student Conference was held October 26-29, 2018 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Among the numerous workshops and sessions held during the days of the event, several presentation topics were technically focused rather than focused on career development. Being a bit of a nerd, I was drawn to these sessions, two of which covered the riveting topics of mixing and particle handling.

From my droll tone, one might think that these sessions were utterly boring. In fact, these sessions were entirely packed with enjoyable tidbits that I cannot convey to others convincingly enough.  In the appropriately-titled “Mixing Seminar,” the presenter went over the topic of… you guessed it… mixing. The assumptions of thorough mixing, or “perfect/ideal mixing,” are crucial to many of the calculations ChemE students perform in Mass and Energy Balances, Heat Transfer, Chemical Reaction Engineering, and Process Controls. With such prevalent use of this assumption, one would anticipate that much thought and calculation goes into proving this assumption is valid in the cases it is used. Indeed, the presenter’s company makes business by designing mixing systems for various reaction processes, and his advice is to not use mixing as a means to an end. Instead of brute forcing chemical reactions to their maximum rate by mixing vigorously, he encouraged working with your chemists to figure out optimal reaction pathways. I felt more trusting of the guy since he actively encouraged the attendees to avoid his company’s services, which is not a good business strategy, but is very honest and helpful.

The particle handling session was an incredible experience. I am not sure if I have ever laughed at the phrases “particle size” and “the size of the particles” before, and I doubt I ever will again. The presenter, Dr. Ben Freireich, was very charismatic and humorous, making the discussion of “Fluidization and Solids Handling” much more interesting than I had envisioned possible. The lack of particle and solids handling in the college-level education system was one of the main points, as 99% of processing facilities handle solids at some point in the process. After the presentation, Dr. Freireich happened to come by and talk with our small student group in the hallway for a few minutes, all of which was entertaining. As it turns out, he wrote a chapter for the new edition of Perry’s, which is quite exciting for nerds as big as I am.

For future conference attendees, I encourage you to attend at least one of the technical presentations that they have available if you have the opportunity. You might find a great new field to research and possibly pursue a career in.  Or you could get a few laughs. Or maybe you just become bored. But hey, at least you learned something, right?

By Dalton Pruitt