Chemical engineers improve the foods we eat, concoct the textiles we wear and refine the fuels that power our vehicles and heat our homes. Few occupations have such potential for the creation of life-changing innovations. It requires a balance of creativity, scientific acumen and discipline. California has four accredited chemical engineering schools in the top 10 in the United States, according to "U.S. News & World Report."

California Institute of Technology

The California Institute of Technology has enjoyed a sterling reputation in the field of chemical engineering for decades. The school houses the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a mainstay for Cal Tech chemical engineering researchers and students. The school contains the Intel Delta supercomputer, the most powerful computer in the world. Its chemical engineering graduates have gone on to work at dozens of leading international manufacturers and laboratories including 3M, Lockheed, Monsanto and Merck. Its graduates teach at leading universities including Columbia, Harvard, Stanford and Yale. Five faculty members are in the National Academy of Engineering.

University of California, Berkeley

Founded in 1872, the chemistry department at the University of California, Berkeley, has been and remains at the forefront of analytical, inorganic, organic, physical and theoretical chemistry. Thirteen alumni and faculty members at the university have won the Nobel Prize in chemistry. A campaign was underway in 2013 to completely renovate the school’s undergraduate laboratories. Companies such as Dow, Chevron and Hitachi fund multiple scholarships, research projects and initiatives at the university, such as the Berkeley Center for Green Chemistry. The school received $8.55 million in private contributions in the 2011-12 school year.

Stanford University

In the heart of Silicon Valley, Stanford University remains one of the top research institutions in the world. The 2013 Nobel Prize in chemistry went to Stanford professor Michael Levitt. The university’s chemical engineering department, formed in 1960, has centers devoted to biotechnology, energy and nanotechnology. Its students and professors are working on the latest advances in biofuels, solar power and conversion of carbon dioxide into fuel. The school won 11 grants totaling $2.2 million in 2013 for research in clean technology and energy efficiency. Stanford has dozens of labs and research centers, including the Global Climate and Energy Project.

University of California, Santa Barbara

The chemical engineering department at Santa Barbara was ranked second in the nation in 2010 by the National Research Council, behind only Cal Tech. An academic trend toward interdisciplinary engineering study is reflected at Santa Barbara as many chemical engineering professors have duties in multiple departments. The base of research funding is strong, as the school received $25 million for research in 2006. Five of the 18 full-time faculty are members of the prestigious National Academy of Engineering. The school has 16 research centers, including the California NanoSystems Institute. Among its distinguished alumni are space shuttle commander Leroy Chiao.