Tag Archives: Chemical Engineering

Ethics, Chemical Engineering, and Planet Earth

by Ken Sampson

Course Objective: This course is designed to introduce chemical engineering students to the reality that the decisions, actions, and communication they will engage in as practicing engineers are not always based only on quantitative analysis. In contrast many important decisions are strongly affected by the ethics and biases of the decision maker. Along the way you will be introduced to your ethical obligations as a practicing engineer. You will be shown a formal approach for evaluating questions of ethics and given experience making ethical decisions in an organized way. You will also be exposed to your own biases and challenged to examine their effect on your decisions.

Desired Student Learning Outcomes: Students will

  1. recognize that ethics underlie many decisions involving chemical engineers
  2. recognize that their ethical decisions may be influenced by their biases
  3. understand that ethical outcomes include prohibition, permission, and obligation
  4. experience the process of making ethical decisions systematically
  5. explore several ethical issues which relate to chemical engineering
  6. be introduced to their obligations as chemical engineers

Mechanics: The class will meet for one hour per week. Class time will be devoted almost entirely to exercises and discussion. Reading assignments will be distributed by email. Most reading assignments will be magazine articles or monograph excerpts. Reading quizzes will be administered at the beginning of each class. You will be required to write and revise a paper which summarizes your understanding of the subject matter discussed in the readings and in class. The paper should identify ethical issues discussed in class and make supported conclusions as to the proper course of action. The paper should be written using professional standards but should also reflect personal beliefs and experiences which affect the decisions made. Because the course topics are varied, your paper may be a collection of distinct essays. The paper should be double-spaced, be typed and follow technical writing standards number.

Syllabus (Numbers correspond to class meeting weeks)

  1. Ethics whether you want to or not
  2. Choosing recipients for liver transplants
  3. Moral theory and engineering ethics
  4. All the easy choices have been made
  5. Using DDT to control malaria
  6. Nuclear power generation and mitigation of anthropogenic radiation
    You are not your own person
  7. Gender bias
  8. Global warming and the global capitalist economy
  9. It’s your job to save the world
  10. The Coolville medical waste incinerator, NIMBY, and BANANA
  11. The HIV disbeliever

More thoughts on the paper:
After weeks 3 and 4 you should make a personal decision about the best course of action for the topic discussed and justify your decision. After weeks 5 and 6 you should identify and discuss influences in your life which have imbedded biases in your attitudes. After weeks 7 and 8 you should describe how your engineering background helps you understand the particular issue better than the general public.

EC2000 assessments from this course:
f) an understanding of professional and ethical responsibility
g) an ability to communicate effectively
h) the broad education necessary to understand the impact of engineering solutions in a global and societal context
i) a recognition of the need for, and an ability to engage in life-long learning
j) a knowledge of contemporary issues

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