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How Concordia is modernizing chemical engineering education for Industry 4.0

The newest department in the Gina Cody School of Engineering and Computer Science leads the way through smart materials and online learning
August 23, 2019
By Eranthi Swaminathan

Alex De Visscher: “It’s part of Concordia’s strategy to be at the forefront of online and lifelong learning.” Alex De Visscher: “It’s part of Concordia’s strategy to be at the forefront of online and lifelong learning.”

For an aspiring chemical engineer with dreams of a successful, socially responsible career, entering the multi-billion-dollar chemical industry is no small task. Several trends are merging and reinforcing each other to create an unpredictable future.

Climate change and digital disruption are increasingly complicating global economies. Policy makers are cracking down on major corporations, demanding accountability and urging them to move away from burning fossil fuels in favour of renewable energy.

For the Department of Chemical and Materials Engineering (CME), the Gina Cody School of Engineering and Computer Science’s newest department, there’s no better time to train current and future engineers for a digital, post-carbon economy.

Forecasting the opportunities of tomorrow

In response to the United Nations’ key goals in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, chemical companies are actively pursuing sustainable initiatives of their own to advance a circular economy — one restorative and regenerative by design — and create value in novel ways.

In addition, global competitiveness is bringing the chemical world to Industry 4.0, where companies are using wireless technologies and sensors to bring performance to their customers. With digitalization comes cyberthreats, security issues and control systems that need protecting.

“We want to train engineers to think more proactively,” says Alex De Visscher, professor and chair of CME.

“We want them to ask questions like, is this the most secure and sustainable way to run our process? Are we going to have the right materials to withstand those processes?”

The solution is to disrupt the current system from within by collaborating with industry and building a department from the ground up. This process of transformation aims to develop new technologies and shift the future of the chemical industry through integrated learning.

Alex De Visscher, professor and chair of CME. Alex De Visscher, professor and chair of CME.

Reflecting the industry

Combining chemical and materials engineering disciplines into a single department is rare in Canada. Aside from Concordia, only one other university does so.

Yet companies are already looking into the potential of cross-fertilizing chemical and materials engineering research, and as trends in the industry change, so must engineering education.

“In rethinking chemical applications, we want to focus on new smart materials, nanotechnology, their use in composites, battery materials and so forth,” says De Visscher. He adds that chemical engineers are trained to design processes first, so plant materials are usually an afterthought.

“The way the chemical industry works traditionally is you have a big plant, which is not very smart. It’s automated, but it uses general automation and products are being transported all over North America.”

De Visscher suggests designing smaller, smarter chemical plants and shortening the transport of products and materials to reduce carbon emissions.

‘At the forefront of online learning’

De Visscher’s online course Advanced Transport Phenomena (CHME 6011), offered in winter 2020, will be the first of four online courses. In partnership with KnowledgeOne, Concordia’s eLearning consulting provider, the department will develop innovative online experiential learning tools based on chemical process simulation, virtual reality and augmented reality.

“Students will become familiar with the online learning format and be ahead of the game,” De Visscher says.

“It’s part of Concordia’s strategy to be at the forefront of online and lifelong learning. The goal is that students can take our certificate from anywhere in the world on their own time and continue on.”

The flexible programs are intended to function as a chemical engineering basecamp for students from diverse backgrounds to meet the demands of today’s chemical industry and anticipate the needs of the future in sectors such as pharmaceuticals, cosmetics and food industries.

The 16-credit certificate and 32-credit graduate diploma are also designed to prepare students for an upcoming master’s program in chemical engineering, which will debut in January 2020.

Competing in yet unknown future economies will require continuous learning of new capabilities to make better value propositions and strategic decisions in the chemical industry.

“That’s where we want to be different,” De Visscher says. “And if we do it well, other universities will look to us and hopefully introduce some of our changes into their curriculum.”

The department and its state-of-the-art labs will be partly housed in Concordia’s brand new Science Hub on Loyola Campus.

Choose the right program for you

Current programs in the Department of Chemical and Materials Engineering:

Upcoming thesis-based graduate programs (January 2020):


Find out more about Concordia’s new Department of Chemical and Materials Engineering.


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