Chemical Engineering in the Real World

AMPAC Fine Chemicals tour unlocks industry insights and builds connections for future engineers

Olivia Westall
Olivia Westall

I'm Olivia Westall, a third-year biochemical engineering major at the University of California, Davis, originally from the mountains of Colorado. I am a self-proclaimed nerd who also loves alpine skiing, taking care of my ever-growing houseplant collection, and rooting on our 2022 Stanley Cup Champions Colorado Avalanche. I hope to put my biochemical engineering degree to use in the future designing genetic medical therapies or designing agricultural genomes to better suit the dynamic, global food supply.  

I also serve as the publicist for the UC Davis branch of the American Institute for Chemical Engineers, or AIChE. As chemical engineers, people often wonder what we do all day. A perfectly reasonable question that many chemical engineering students find themselves asking even as they pursue their degree. It can be difficult as a quasi-adult trying to find their way in the world to imagine all the possibilities and which specific avenue you want to pursue.  

It is fortunate then that the UC Davis alumni, especially from the chemical engineering department, are so willing to help guide current students. Personally, I think that having alumni in such amazing positions who are willing to speak with current students is one of the reasons that makes UC Davis such an amazing university. 

Bringing theory to life 

Earlier this month, 14 enthusiastic chemical engineering students AIChE embarked on a tour of a pharmaceutical manufacturing facility in East Sacramento. AMPAC Fine Chemicals, an industry leader for 80 years, showcased the intricate processes involved in active pharmaceutical substance development, scale-up, and cGMP-compliant production. AMPAC also employs many UC Davis chemical engineering alumni who were generous enough to work with AIChE to make the tour of the facility possible.  

As part of our undergraduate curriculum, we are often presented with "real world examples" in our Material Balances (ECH51) or Thermodynamics (ECH152A/B) classes that ask us to analyze a process system, but it can be hard to imagine all of the pumps, batch reactors and distillation towers. However, witnessing the in-person implementation during the AMPAC tour brought these theoretical ideas to life. The tour underscored the magnitude of the systems we engage with in our classes offering a tangible connection to the grand aspirations we had when we originally decided to be engineers. 

From pharmaceuticals to energy and agriculture, the AMPAC tour showcased the diverse industries influenced by chemical engineering. Witnessing the intricate processes at AMPAC reinforced the far-reaching impact our discipline has on real-world applications.  

As chemical engineers, we play a pivotal role in ensuring the quality and efficiency of processes that directly impact the lives of anyone from medical patients and everyday consumers. This immersive experience not only highlighted the breadth of possibilities within the field but also emphasized the importance of bridging the gap between theoretical knowledge and practical application.  

Lasting impressions 

Embarking on a career in engineering is challenging, yet immensely rewarding and joining clubs like AIChE provides opportunities to build networks, gain industry insights, and witness classroom knowledge put into practice. Hands-on experiences, like the AMPAC tour facilitated by clubs such as AIChE, not only expand your professional network but also enhance your understanding of industry practices. 

Group photo of students wearing hard hats and lab coats

Touring the AMPAC facility was an amazing experience and hopefully by describing how inspiring and informative these tours are, we can impress upon other Aggie Engineers how important it is to take advantage of every resource available to UC Davis students.  

Involvement in clubs and organizations is not just an extracurricular activity; it's a crucial step towards becoming a well-rounded and informed engineer. 

A heartfelt thank you extends to the engineers and UC Davis alumni at AMPAC for generously sharing their expertise, chemical engineering professor and department chair Tonya Kuhl for her continuous support as the AIChE faculty sponsor, and to Ashley Hoang, the AIChE external vice president, for orchestrating these amazing visits. 

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