Many of the consumer products we interact with on a daily basis have their roots in chemical engineering—from cosmetics to dish detergent, paints to plastics. Though each of these products involves complex chemical engineering to create, their formulation requires a deep understanding of three basic topics: colloids, polymers, and surfaces. In other words, fine particles, large molecules, and the interfaces they form between them are key to the formulation of many useful products.

Carnegie Mellon’s world-class Colloids Polymers and Surfaces program (CPS) provides the foundational knowledge necessary to understand how all of these commercial products are made, and gives students the tools to make an innovative impact on a number of important industries:

  • Cosmetics – Lotions, mascara, foundation, nail polish—all of these cosmetic products are formulations created by scientists and engineers. At Carnegie Mellon, students in the chemical engineering program learn not only the fundamental science of how to create these products, but the advanced skills to make them more effective, longer-lasting, and healthier for use on human skin.
  • Paints and coatings – This is one of the primary chemical engineering applications in commercial products, one that many Chemical Engineering students pursue after graduation. Additional applications include the formulation of indoor and outdoor paints for homes and industrial buildings, non-stick coatings for cookware and other products, and numerous others.
  • Food science – From the creation of food products like ranch dressing and mini-muffins, to allergen-friendly alternatives like dairy-free coffee creamers and gluten-free cookies, chemical engineers use their deep understanding of how molecules interact with one another to make things delicious, palatable, and good for you too.
  • Surfactants – This includes dishwashing liquids, detergents, shampoos and conditioners, and many more. Even as early as the undergraduate program, Carnegie Mellon chemical engineering students learn to make their own cleaning liquids, balancing molecular adherence with scent and other properties to create a useful detergent.

Student experience

Graduates of the program find careers in industries and companies all over the world, thanks in part to the department's professional relationships with industry leaders.

Many of our graduates go on to work for industry leader in paints and coatings PPG Industries, located right in the heart of Pittsburgh—including Senior Vice President of Automotive Coatings Rebecca Liebert (’95).

To learn more about the exciting opportunities available to both undergraduate and graduate students in cosmetics, food science, and other consumer products, check out the Center for Complex Fluids Engineering, or contact the Director of the CPS program, Annette Jacobson.

Center for Complex Fluids Engineering

The Center for Complex Fluids Engineering aims to solve problems in the formulation and processing of materials based on complex fluids.