Chemical Engineers & Our Superstitions

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Superstitions surround us: Touching wood? Carrying a rabbit’s foot? Collecting lucky pennies? Not stepping on any cracks? The list goes on and on. 

On one of my many chemical filtration business trips (many people have superstitions making flights safer), I read an interesting article on superstitions in the Wall Street Journal’s (WSJ) Magazine. Six luminaries from different walks of life — photography, acting, cooking, writing, directing and music — weighed in. But, alas, there were no chemical engineers.  So, I thought I’d remedy that in a blog. 

The WSJ article featured various thoughts on superstitions. Some defined superstitions based upon religion and culture passed on from many generations. Another outlined a simple ritual such as “when hearing the title of a Scottish play, one would run outside, turn around three times, then knock on the door to come back inside the theatre.” Then, there were “routines” to keep your days identical (i.e. the same workout, the same coffee, etc.). Others talked about superstitions as an attempt at “having control of what you can control.”

However, the one overriding theme, as photographer Gregory Crewdson stated, is that a belief in superstition “comes down to order” and wanting “to clear your path of unknowns.”  

Clearing the Path for Chemical Engineers

So, how does all that relate to chemical engineering?

If you accept Crewdson’s view, all chemical engineers are superstitious. We are always trying to clear our paths of the unknown. In every chemical filtration process, it is the unknowns that give us the most headaches. Why does the pump keep plugging? Why does the filtration system not produce a clean filtrate? Why is the process not meeting the production rates?  The questions we face are endless! But our job remains the same, we must “clear our paths of the unknown.”

Regular readers will know where I’m going with this…Test! Test! Test! Testing is our way of answering questions in controlled environments. To develop a process or troubleshoot an existing one, we need to ask the correct questions, think critically, walk around the plant, etc.  

Contact me with your superstitions for solving critical filtration and drying applications.  Let’s have fun exploring what we all do in chemical filtration.  

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