Comparison of Bio Majors

Biomedical Engineering

Biomedical engineering is an interdisciplinary field of study that integrates knowledge of engineering principles with the biomedical sciences. It is a very diverse field, with biomedical engineers working in areas ranging from medical imaging to regenerative medicine. Some major contributions of biomedical engineering include the left ventricular assist device (LVAD), artificial joints, hemodialysis, bioengineered skin, coronary stents, computed tomography (CT), and flexible endoscopes. Students who choose biomedical engineering are interested in contributing to human health and quality of life, but do not routinely interact directly with patients, as do physicians. Due to the need to complete additional coursework beyond BME degree requirements, this major is not a primary route for pre-medical studies.

The biomedical engineering curriculum has been designed to provide a solid foundation in mathematics, life and physical sciences, and engineering. Sufficient flexibility in the upper division requirements encourages students to explore specializations within the field, through the judicious selection of engineering and science electives. Our instructional program is designed to impart knowledge of contemporary issues at the forefront of biomedical engineering research. Employment opportunities exist in industry, hospitals, academic research and teaching institutes, national laboratories, or government regulatory agencies. The major also provides excellent grounding in the skills necessary for professional or graduate-level studies in biological and health sciences.

Choose Biomedical Engineering if (i) you want to be an engineer AND (ii) you are interested in working at the interface between engineering and biomedical sciences. All students in Biomedical Engineering are required to meet rigorous engineering requirements (Math & Physics), including design and quantitative analysis. If you are interested in attending medical school but not in engineering, you should consider a non-engineering major. See College of Biological Sciences below.

Other Engineering Majors

Biological Systems Engineering: Biotechnical Engineering  Biotechnology involves the handling and manipulation of living organisms or their components to produce useful products. Students specializing in biotechnical engineering integrate analysis and design with applied biology to solve problems in renewable energy production, large-scale biotechnical production, control of biological systems, and production of bio-based materials. Students may focus on the mechanisms and processes for the sustainable production and use of energy from renewable biological sources. Students may also focus on the challenges in scaling up laboratory developments to industrial production, including genetically altered plants, plant materials and food products; production, packaging, and application of biocontrol agents for plant pests and diseases; and microbial production of biological products, tissue culture, and bioremediation. Students may also focus on the development of biosensors to detect microorganisms and specific substances, useful in the development of products based on biological processes and materials. Biotechnical engineers work in the biotech industries on process design and operation, scale-up, and instrumentation and control.

Biochemical Engineering  Biochemical engineers are in high demand in the rapidly growing biotechnology/pharmaceutical, biofuels and biorefinery industries. As the biotechnology industry expands and matures, there is increasing need for engineers who can move products from the research stage to the pilot scale and ultimately to large scale manufacturing. As they fill this need, engineers must understand the production, purification, and regulatory issues surrounding biopharmaceutical manufacturing. Biochemical engineers are also critical for the development and commercialization of sustainable and economic processes to produce liquid transportation fuels from biomass, algae and waste streams from other manufacturing processes. Future “biorefineries” will include coproduction of a wide range of chemical feedstocks, oils, and polymers thereby contributing to the economic viability of larger volume, lower valued compounds such as biofuels.
Biochemical engineers—with their strong foundations in chemistry, biological sciences, and chemical process engineering—are in a unique position to tackle these problems. Biochemical engineers apply the principles of cell and molecular biology, biochemistry, and engineering to develop, design, scale-up, optimize, and operate processes that use living cells, organisms, or biological molecules for the production and purification of products (such as monoclonal antibodies, vaccines, therapeutic proteins, antibiotics, industrial enzymes, ethanol and more complex biofuels); for health and/or environmental monitoring (such as diagnostic kits, microarrays, biosensors); or for environmental improvement (such as bioremediation). An understanding of biological processes is also becoming increasingly important in the industries that traditionally employ chemical engineers, such as the materials, chemicals, food, energy, fuels, and semiconductor processing industries.

Non-engineering Majors

Biotechnology: Fermentation/microbial biotechnology  The numbers of microbes alive today far exceeds the number of plants and animals that ever existed and we are becoming increasingly aware of the critical role these play in human health, plant productivity and toxin degradation. Since the dawn of civilization bacteria have played critical roles in food, wine and beer production; more recently microbes are central to the industrial manufacture of pharmaceuticals, chemicals, detergents, and a slew of other consumer products. The vast diversity of microbes provides novel metabolism systems that are currently being examined as a way to generate novel energy resources, and clean up the environment after their consumption.

Biotechnology: Bioinformatics  This is the application of computer technology to the management of biological information. Unprecedented amounts of biological data are being accumulated in massive databases, and specialized computational skills are necessary to mine and make sense of this data deluge. Students in bioinformatics take classes in both biology and computer science and graduate with a set of skills necessary to successfully participate and lead this fast moving field.

College of Biological Sciences (related majors) Biochemistry & Molecular Biology; Biological Sciences; Cell Biology; Genetics & Genomics; Microbiology; Neurobiology, Physiology & Behavior