ChEn 3603 – Mass Transfer & Separations


Administrative Information

  • Text Book (required): Separation Process Principles, 3rd or 4th edition, by Seader, Henley & Roper.
  • Instructor: James C. Sutherland, Professor of Chemical Engineering
    • Office location: MEB 3290H.
    • Office hours will be held via zoom (see link on Ed): Wednesday 2-3 and Thursday 11-12. If you need to meet in person or cannot make it during these times, feel free to email me to set up an appointment.
  • Teaching assistants: we have two great TAs for the class. They will be running help hours and also helping respond to questions on Ed. If you need to contact them directly, their email is linked below:


Please be familiar with the University of Utah’s web page with information about the COVID-19 pandemic.

  • In accordance with CDC guidelines and University guidance, you are strongly encouraged to wear a mask and be vaccinated against COVID-19 to protect yourself and those around you.
  • Asymptomatic testing is available and you are encouraged to take advantage of this resource regardless of your vaccination status.
  • If you are exposed to someone infected with COVID-19, feel at all ill, or have been diagnosed with COVID-19, you should immediately quarantine and should not attend class. Contact me ASAP to make arrangements.
  • If you test positive for COVID-19, follow the instructions here and please let me know so we can ensure that you keep up with the class material.

Getting Help


We will be using Ed for class discussion. Rather than emailing questions to Professor Sutherland or the TAs, I encourage you to post your questions on Ed.

Class announcements will also be made through Ed, so be in the habit of checking it. You can enable email notifications in your account settings so you don’t miss anything.

TA Help hours:

The TAs will provide help on the following days/times:

  • Monday 1:00-2:00 PM (Nico)
  • Tuesday 12:00-1:00 PM (Nick)
  • Wednesday 5:00-6:00 PM (Nick)
  • Thursday 9:30-10:30 (Nick)
  • Thursday 5:00-6:00 PM (Nico)
  • Friday 2:00-3:00 (Nico)

Help hours will be a hybrid in-person (in the ICC) and zoom. Information on connecting via zoom is available on Ed.

Course topics:

  1. Mass transfer:
    • Integral and differential mass/mole balances.
    • Fick’s first and second laws for binary mass transfer.
    • Mass transfer in turbulent flow.  Film theory models.
  2. Single equilibrium stage operations:
    • Gibb’s phase rule & degrees of freedom.
    • Binary vapor-liquid equilibrium.
    • T-x-y diagrams.
    • Azeotropes.
    • Multicomponent flash calculations & the Rachford-Rice equation.
    • Ternary liquid-liquid systems.
  3. Absorption & Stripping:
    • Minimum flow rate, Number of equilibrium stages.
    • Stage efficiency.
    • Packed columns.
  4. Binary Continuous Distillation:
    • McCabe-Thiele method.
    • Design considerations: feed stage location, minimum reflux/boilup ratio, minimum number of stages.
  5. Binary batch distillation
  6. Adsorption:
    • Properties of sorbents.
    • Isotherms – models for adsorption.
    • Introduction to chromatography

Learning Objectives & Outcomes

By the end of this course, you will be able to:

  • Describe diffusion of species using Fick’s law as well as mass transfer coefficients for binary systems.
  • Perform integral and differential mass & mole balances on systems.
  • Analyze systems involving multicomponent 2-phase equilibrium and perform multicomponent flash calculations.
  • Use T-x-y diagrams to understand flash in two-component systems
  • Design basic distillation columns using the McCabe-Thiele technique.
  • Understand the tradeoffs between packed & trayed towers and analyze both for absorption, stripping and distillation.
  • Analyze batch distillation processes.
  • Understand design considerations for adsorption.

Teaching Philosophy:

I assume that you are here to learn. I will do my best to help you achieve that goal. However, learning is primarily your responsibility. You should come to class prepared to participate in the lecture and ask questions. I am happy to meet with you outside of class to discuss questions you have. I also try to respond to email in a timely manner.


Homework is designed to provide you with the opportunity to solidify concepts discussed in class. Homework assignments will typically require you to assimilate several concepts to solve a problem. I do this purposely, since I believe that this will help you to learn problem solving skills that will be crucial to your success as an engineer.

Homework assignments will be posted on the homework page of the course web site. No late homework submissions will be accepted unless arrangements are made prior to the due date with Prof. Sutherland.

Solutions will be posted on the class web site shortly after the due date.

I strongly encourage you to work together on homework assignments. Discuss the problem and your solution approaches with each other. However, you must submit your own work. Copying others’ work is plagiarism and will not be tolerated. Consequences of cheating and plagiarism include failure of homework assignments, failure of this class, and possibly dismissal from the chemical engineering program.

Homework assignments must be submitted electronically. You should write a report describing the problem, your solution, and presenting your results. Submit your report as a Jupyter notebook. For more information, see the Homework page.

Grading Policy

  • 30% Homework
  • 15% quizzes
  • 10% each midterm (four midterms)
  • 15% Final

Grades will be assigned on the following scale, normalized to the highest student in the class:

  • 92: A,  89: A-
  • 86: B+,  81: B,  78: B-
  • 75: C+,  69: C,  65: C-
  • 61: D+,  55: D,  50: D-

I reserve the right to adjust this scale downward if I deem it necessary. Please note that the normalization only increases your grade – it never decreases it.

Student Resources

Please read through this material which summarizes a number of resources on campus.  Here are a few links that you should be familiar with:

  • The college of engineering has a dedicated counselor who you can see free of charge.
  • The University counseling center 801-581-6826, available for appointments to discuss issues you may be having.
  • – a collection of student resources available on campus.
  • SafeUT – smartphone application that provides access to resources.
  • University Neuropsychiatric institute (UNI) hotline: 801-587-3000
  • Crisis intervention
  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
  • To report suspicious activity or to request a courtesy escort, call campus police at 801-585-COPS (801-585-2677).

Addressing Sexual Misconduct

Title IX makes it clear that violence and harassment based on sex and gender (which includes sexual orientation and gender identity/expression) is a Civil Rights offense subject to the same kinds of accountability and the same kinds of support applied to offenses against other protected categories such as race, national origin, color, religion, age, status as a person with a disability, veteran?s status or genetic information. If you or someone you know has been harassed or assaulted, you are encouraged to report it to the Title IX Coordinator in the Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action, 135 Park Building, 801-581-8365, or the Office of the Dean of Students, 270 Union Building, 801-581-7066. For victim support and confidential consultation, contact the Center for Student Wellness, 426 SSB, 801-581-7776. To report to the police, contact the Department of Public Safety, 801-585-2677(COPS).

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