School of Chemical Engineering

Student Veera Petäjäniemi: 'Through research, I can make an actual impact on the world.'

Veera Petäjäniemi graduated in 2021 from the Master's Programme in Chemical, Biochemical and Materials Engineering - Chemical and Process Engineering. She is currently working as a Process Development Engineer at Fermion, a Finnish manufacturer of Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients (API).
Veera standing in nature

Why did you want to study a degree in Master of Science in Chemical Engineering?

Chemical and process engineering was something that I became instantly fascinated with during my Bachelor’s studies. Being able to design new chemical processes was something that sparked an interest in me, and I wanted to learn more about it. Also, design work has been something that has interested me for a long time, and by choosing to study a Master’s degree in chemical engineering I am able to incorporate design in my job.

Chemical engineering is actually a combination of chemistry, physics and mathematics, which is also one of the reasons why I chose this major. It is really cool to be able to apply knowledge from several fields of science in my studies.

However, the most important reason, why I chose this major, is the possibility to make a positive impact on the environment through my work. For example, industrial emissions and industrial waste can be reduced by designing greener chemical processes.

What was the best thing about your studies?

The best thing about my studies were the many interesting courses that I attended. Beside the major compulsory courses, I was able to pick courses and concentrate on topics that interested me. So, I chose to incorporate more courses on process safety, laboratory work, and plant design in my degree, whereas I also chose not to take extra courses on process automation. So, it was great that I was able to customise the major to my liking. 

Besides my major courses, I could also include minor and elective studies in my degree. The courses can be chosen from other Aalto schools or completed internationally.

What course did you find most interesting and what was it about?

One of the most interesting courses was the laboratory project in chemical engineering. At the beginning of the course, we were assigned a chemical for which we needed to design a chemical process. My group designed a process for butyl acetate. The design of the process included a market study, process comparison and finally the design and operation of the laboratory scale chemical process.

The course really taught me a lot about how chemical processes are designed and how processes can be operated in laboratory settings. Also, group work and project work was something that I learned a lot about during the course. The laboratory course was also a course where I learned through mistakes. At the end of the course I could name several things that I wish we would have done differently. But at the end of the day, learning happens through mistakes and the course taught me a lot of engineering skills that will surely be valuable in the future.

Did you work in your field during your studies (e.g. summer job)?

I worked two summers at my current company Fermion. Fermion manufactures active pharmaceutical ingredients, or shortly APIs, that are used in the manufacturing of finished pharmaceutical products. Fermion is actually a part of the Finnish pharmaceutical company Orion. During my summer jobs there I worked at the research and development department, where pharmaceutical processes are developed.

During my first summer job, I worked with process simulation. I modelled reactions and mixing in chemical reactors with various simulation programs. The simulations were used to model industrial and pilot scale pharmaceutical processes.

During my second summer I worked with very different topics; I worked with pharmaceutical process waste and process side streams. My jobs consisted of the characterization and inventory of process side streams, as well as literary research on how the side streams can be reused more efficiently. The goal was to find ways to reduce the amount of industrial waste.

My summer jobs at Fermion were really beneficial to my studies and vice versa, and led to my current career. Working a summer job in your field is something that I can recommend to everybody.

What are your future career goals? 

It is my dream to work with research and development, because through research, I can make an actual impact on the world. I would like to work for example with designing more environmentally friendly processes. Also waste management and circular economy are topics that interest me, and I hope I can incorporate these themes in my job. All in all, my dream is to work for the greater good.

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