Benjamin Davis

Associate Professor of Chemical Engineering

Cooper Union Summer Research Internship Program

Summer 2011 Project Proposal

Engineering Polymers: How Plastics are Made

One of the goals of the chemical engineering curriculum at Cooper is for students to have an understanding and awareness of the professional, ethical and safe application of their knowledge; this project provides budding engineering students an opportunity to learn about that goal by teaching them about environmentally responsible engineering using polymers (plastics) as an example.

The first part of the project will have students learn about how chemicals are made and what sort of processes are used to make them.  A necessary part of making these products is using energy and making waste - they will learn about the different byproducts of these chemical plants.  Next we will learn about polymers: how they are made, their compositions, and their uses.  At this point, the students will be broken up into small groups and they will pick a particular type of polymer (like synthetic rubber, polyethylene, polystyrene, etc.) and do their own research report on it and give a preliminary presentation about their polymer to the class.  Part of the report will be finding real products from home which contain that particular polymer.  After that, we will learn more specifically about the chemical plants where these products are made and how to find out what amounts of raw materials and energy you would need to make each product and the wastes associated with its creation.  Finally, the students will form new groups and create their own design for a chemical plant which makes a polymer.