Nov 23, 2011
ICE, ICE baby
Posted in: Academics & Research
Margaret Mary Lloyd, where have you been?!
This is probably something my mom would say to me, but she never actually called me Margaret Mary, and my status as the youngest child meant she knew my location at all times throughout childhood.
It may be something you all are wondering, however, seeing that I’ve become the Disappearing Blogger I told myself I would never become. What happened to make me neglect my bloggership?
Well, senior year happened. And that’s certainly not a good enough excuse, nor is it a particularly unique one, but that’s the story I’m sticking to. I would like to take this time to announce that the Chemical Engineering class of 2012 has hit a monumental milestone in the last couple of weeks: the end of our first 8-week ICE course.
ICE, or Integrated Chemical Engineering, is our senior design class. We don’t have a thesis, we have ICE, and we’ve been hearing about it since we joined the department. When I say “hearing about it,” I mean “hearing about the all-nighters, the windowless basement computer lab, the return of 10.301 (fluid mechanics), 10.302 (heat and mass transfer), 10.37 (chemical kinetics and reactor design), and 10.213 (chemical engineering thermodynamics) all at once.” Let’s just say I was a little intimidated going into this class, especially since the professor wrote “Yes, it’s ICE” on the top of the board on the first day of class. Eight weeks later, my group (Lucy ’12, Emily ’12, Yingxia ’12, and I) submitted our design, which looks like a cross between a subway map and a complicated football maneuver.
So, how did it go? I have to admit, this was the first time that I actually felt like an engineer. Our objective was to design a process that would produce a certain amount of ethyl acetate at a given purity per year. Ethyl acetate is a very common solvent, which those of you who have worked in labs or even used perfume or nail polish remover can appreciate.
We used the program Aspen Plus to create and tinker with our design. The reagents, acetic acid and ethanol, are fed into a reactive distillation column that converts the feeds to ethyl acetate and water while purifying the outlet streams. Our product comes out the top of the column, but is nowhere near the desired purity, so we need to remove all the unwanted stuff in that stream. That’s accomplished by a decanter, which separates the aqueous and organic liquid phases in this stream, (if you're wondering how two liquids can separate, think of water and oil) and a second column, only this one is nonreactive. Along the way, the pressure is manipulated by valves and pumps of various sizes.
This process resulted in a lot of nights of Maggie eating dinner in the basement of ChemE’s building 66, lovingly referred to as “the bunker” or “the dungeon,” as she worked on ICE. Each weekly pset built upon the one before it, so there was pressure to get a working solution every time. I honestly wish that I had kept track of how many hours I spent in that room in the past couple of months, but believe me when I say that 2 a.m. walks back to Baker House became my norm this semester.
So, the first big part of ICE (yes, there's another 8-week session in the spring) is complete, which certainly justifies a mental break, and with perfect timing, too. My flight is about to leave for Sacramento where family and turkey await; I gave myself a strict no-homework policy for the next few days, so this will probably be my chance to catch up on sleep and blogging, but not necessarily in that order (I’m woefully behind schedule on both activities). Happy Thanksgiving, folks!