Atoms and molecules assemble into materials, with the material structure determining the properties and ultimate function. Human-made materials and systems have achieved great complexity, such as the integrated circuit and the modern airplane. However, they still do not rival the adaptivity and robustness of biological systems. Understanding the reaction and assembly of molecules on the early Earth is a scientific grand challenge, and also can elucidate the design principles underlying biological materials and systems. This research requires understanding of chemical reactions, thermodynamics, fluid mechanics, heat and mass transfer, optimization, and control. Thus, the discipline of chemical engineering can play a central role in advancing the field. In this paper, an overview of research in the origins field is given, with particular emphasis on the origin of biopolymers and the role of chemical engineering phenomena. A case study is presented to highlight the importance of the environment and its coupling to the chemistry.
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