Water and Oil Do Mix: UC Student's Co-op Ties Chemical Engineering to Two Vital Resources

By:    Brandon Pytel
Date: June 25, 2018

UC chemical engineering student Emma Lowe completed co-op rotations with BASF and Marathon Petroleum, applying chemical engineering to both wastewater treatment processes and oil refining.

Lowe stands in front of a Marathon sign with hardhat and brown jumpsuit.

One of Emma Lowe's co-op rotations was with Marathon Petroleum Corporation at Galveston Bay, Texas, where Lowe worked with technical service engineers to solve problems and complete optimization projects within the refinery.

Emma Lowe (chemical engineering ’19) always enjoyed chemistry in high school, but it wasn’t until she attended a talk by a chemical engineer that she found her passion. The topic of the talk: Designing dog food.

The speaker wasn’t just manufacturing the dog food, Lowe explained. She designed its chemical composition to fit each type of dog, considering variables like teeth, coat and size. While many people couldn’t get over the smell of the product, Lowe couldn’t believe that something as common as dog food was rooted in chemical engineering.

“The things we take for granted are often based on intentional chemical design,” said Lowe. “Something that seems so small can make a difference to so many people.”

Two resources we take for granted every day require vast amounts of chemical engineering: water and oil.

Through University of Cincinnati’s (UC) cooperative education (co-op) program, Lowe applied her knowledge of chemical engineering to both of these vital resources. Lowe’s first co-op rotations were with the chemicals company BASF, where she helped implement a centrifuge that would separate oil and other contaminants from wastewater.  

Lowe’s other two co-op rotations were with the Marathon Petroleum Corporation. At Marathon, Lowe worked at the Galveston Bay Refinery near Houston, Texas, and most recently at Marathon’s headquarters in Findlay, Ohio.

At Galveston Bay, Lowe worked with technical service engineers to solve problems and complete optimization projects within the refinery. She worked on projects that both increased oil production and explored safer, easier and more efficient refining techniques. She also created graphics that illustrated the connections between the equipment and piping within the refinery, providing models to employees across the plant.

In Findlay, Lowe supported engineers to ensure that the mass balances on refinery units were accurate. Engineers at Marathon apply the data gathered by Lowe and the team to projects and decisions that increase productivity and efficiency within the refinery.

On top of growing as an engineer, Lowe has also appreciated the transition into adult life that co-op has provided. Through co-op, Lowe learned how to move, pay bills, file taxes, manage time, network and work with other professionals.

“I honestly can’t imagine going into a full-time job search without co-op,” said Lowe.

As Lowe enters her senior year, she will focus on finishing classes (which includes completing an MBA through UC’s ACCEND program), participating in multiple organizations and applying to full-time positions.

“UC and the College of Engineering and Applied Science offer endless possibilities and opportunities for students,” said Lowe. “From professional development to the variety in extracurricular organizations, UC has provided me with an extremely well-rounded and fulfilling college experience.”

After graduation, Lowe will use her college experience to improve resources and products through the wonders of chemical engineering.