Chemical Engineering

Chemical Engineers invent, design and operate industrial processes that convert raw materials into valuable products. Chemical engineers are therefore very much in demand in a wide range of industries such as food, pharmaceuticals, plastics, detergents, drinking water, fuels, and energy, as consumers are demanding both more sophisticated products and more sustainable processes. Chemical engineers are behind the drive for issues such as renewable plastics, sustainable energy, clean affordable water, and personalised drugs..

The Department of Chemical Engineering and Biotechnology at Cambridge enjoys a reputation for excellence in its teaching and research, regularly topping national league tables.

The Department moved into a specially designed new building on the West Cambridge site in 2016 as part of a £60M project. The new building has been designed to house all the Department’s teaching and research activities.

Subject Video

Chemical Engineering at St John's


First year

Chemical Engineers spend their first year studying either Part IA Engineering or Part IA Natural Sciences. The Natural Sciences route enables students to study three science subjects and mathematics, and is ideal preparation for those who like pure science and want to understand how things work at a fundamental level. The Engineering route gives students a broad background in different engineering disciplines and is ideal preparation for those who like applying science to solve real-world problems.

chemical engineering department

Second and third year

From the second year (Part I), students are based within the Department of Chemical Engineering and Biotechnology. They are taught primarily through lectures supported by projects, laboratory classes, supervisions and coursework. Each week students typically attend 11 lectures and have two supervisions. They also undertake fortnightly projects.

Our course concentrates on the scientific principles behind modern chemical and biochemical engineering. These skills are complemented by a series of lectures and exercises that teach design. How to design individual items of process equipment, and how these may be integrated to make a chemical plant, are important aspects of industrial practice.

Process design involves using scientific and engineering principles to make sensible decisions amidst uncertainty arising from limited technical information. Process design tuition culminates in a major Design Project at the end of the third year (Part IIA).

Fourth year

The aim of the fourth year (Part IIB) is to develop a deeper understanding of the discipline and to study some specialist subjects. Students choose advanced topics from a range of options according to their interests, and undertake an original research project.


All Chemical engineering undergraduates work under the direction of their Director of Studies who provides guidance in how they can study most effectively as well as providing advice about vacation placements, careers, or postgraduate study after graduation.

The Director of Studies meets undergraduates each term to review the reports received from their supervisors and to plan their work over the vacation. There is a strong emphasis on developing a sense of self-responsibility in undergraduates for the quality and success of their work.

As for all subjects, the University Faculty arranges lectures but supervision teaching is provided through the College. A Chemical Engineering supervision group typically comprises two or three students.

A Part I Chemical Engineering undergraduate has about 10 hours of lectures and two hours of supervisions a week, although about 40 hours of private study is generally needed in addition to this. The range of optional subjects available expands in the final year of the course, where students can select their choices from a variety of subjects such as chemical engineering, biochemical engineering, biotechnology, sustainability, and foreign languages.

Chemical Engineering


We usually admit 15 undergraduate students each year to study Engineering and 30 undergraduate students in Natural Sciences. St John’s College aims for two or three Chemical Engineering students per year, however cohorts have been as high as seven students in some years, depending on the interests of the applicants.


One great advantage of the Cambridge system is its flexibility. You are not absolutely committed to reading Chemical Engineering even if you specify it on your application form. For instance, it is usually possible to continue studying a pure science if you do first-year Natural Sciences, or another branch of engineering if you do first-year Engineering.

It is often possible to change to Chemical Engineering, even if this is not stated on the application form if an appropriate first-year course is studied if the course is not over-subscribed. In any case, be reassured that applicants are not at a disadvantage if they apply directly to Chemical Engineering or Engineering or Natural Science.

Entry Details

UCAS Code: via Engineering (MEng/CEE) H810 or Natural Sciences (MEng/CENS) H813

Typical Entry Requirements

A Level: A*A*A

International Baccalaureate: 42 points, with 776 at Higher Level

Essential Subjects: A Level/IB Higher Level Mathematics and Chemistry. Physics is also essential if applying via Engineering.

Desirable Subjects: Further Maths/Physics is desirable at AS or A2 (or equivalent). Biology may be desirable when applying via Natural Sciences.

Submitted Work: None

Pre-interview Assessment: Applicants for Chemical Engineering will need to sit the University's Pre-Interview Admissions Assessment for either Engineering or Natural Sciences, depending on the subject they intend to apply through.

Students applying through Engineering will take the Engineering Admissions Assessment (ENGAA) which consists of two Maths/Physics assessments lasting 60 minutes each.

Students applying through Natural Sciences will take the Natural Science Admissions Assessment (NSAA) which consists of two Maths/Science assessments lasting 60 minutes each.

Admissions Interviews

Information regarding interview dates and arrangements.