Dean Burkey Honored for Innovative Contributions in Computer-Based Chemical Engineering Education


Contents Under Pressure, co-developed by Dean Daniel Burkey, is a virtual game that addresses human decision making in an engineering environment.

By Olivia Drake, Written Communications Specialist  

For making “new and novel contributions to computer aids in chemical engineering education,” the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE) is honoring University of Connecticut’s Castleman Term Professor in Engineering Innovation Daniel Burkey with the 2023 David Himmelblau Award for Innovations in Computer-Based Chemical Engineering Education 

Burkey, who also serves as the associate dean of undergraduate education and diversity, and associate professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering, co-created a computer game titled Contents Under Pressure that teaches students about chemical process safety and risk management skills.  

Dean Daniel Burkey

Dean Daniel Burkey’s primary areas of interest are game-based education, engineering ethics, and process safety education.

“The challenge is, you can give students problems to work through, but you can’t put them in a chemical plant and make things go wrong and see how they respond,” Burkey said. “Our answer to that was [to create] a game, a platform where students could interact with virtual characters but still get to make authentic processing decisions in a safe environment. We wanted to give them a way to reflect on their decision making processes, make them aware of the connections between process safety and ethics, and hopefully develop skills that will serve them in the future.”

Players, who would likely be chemical engineers or chemical engineering students, assume the role of a senior process engineer managing a chemical plant. To achieve a high score, players are challenged to balance four metrics—time, personal reputation, plant productivity, and process safety—to avoid plant and personnel failures. 

“We wanted the game to focus on making ethical process safety judgements in chemical engineering,” Burkey said. “People sometimes think that process safety is solely technical, but process safety also involves ethical reasoning. You’re evaluating complex choices that have potentially complex outcomes.” 

Burkey collaborated on the game with colleagues Matthew Cooper, teaching professor of chemical and biomedical engineering at North Carolina State University; Daniel Anastasio, associate professor of chemical engineering at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology; and Cheryl Bodnar, associate professor of experiential engineering education at Rowan University. After working on the narrative and character development, the colleagues teamed up with digital studio Filament Games of Madison, Wisconsin to build and launch the game.   

Burkey uses the game in his own senior-level chemical engineering design course, and it has also been used at the partner institutions that helped to co-develop the game. The team is in the process of expanding access to other academic and industrial partners and has submitted a follow-up grant to continue the development of the game. 

Sponsored by the Computer Aids for Chemical Engineering Education (CACHE) Corporation, the David Himmelblau Award is funded by colleagues and family of the late David Himmelblau, who worked 42 years as a professor of chemical engineering at the University of Texas, Austin and penned more than 200 articles on sensor validation, artificial neural networks, and process analysis and optimization. Burkey is the second UConn professor to receive the award; In 2010, Michael Cutlip, professor of chemical engineering, emeritus, was a recipient. 

The award will be presented at the CAST Division dinner at the AIChE Annual Meeting in Orlando, Fla. in November 2023. Burkey will receive a plaque and $1,000. 

Contents Under Pressure was developed as part of an Improving Undergraduate STEM Education (IUSE) grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF), under award numbers DUE#1711376, 1711644, 1711672, and 1711866.  

To learn more about Contents Under Pressure and the team, visit the game’s website. 

Categories: chemical engineering, Daniel Burkey, Front Page, Headline, News, STEM