UD creates doctoral program in biomedical engineering
Published: Monday, February 20, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, February 21, 2012 03:02
Students seeking a career in biomedical engineering can earn their doctorate degree through a new program offered by the College of Engineering, which was created to accommodate growing interest in the field.
The Faculty Senate approved the addition to the College of Engineering's list of programs earlier this month, and it will begin operation this fall semester.
Dawn Elliott, a former University of Pennsylvania bioengineering professor who was hired in September to develop the university's undergraduate program, stated in an email message that biomedical engineering is becoming a widely popular major throughout the country.
"There is a strong need for graduate training in biomedical engineering," Elliott said. "Many jobs in [biomechanical engineering] require advanced training. The complexity of the problems to be solved requires a deep knowledge of both fundamental engineering and biology."
Although biomedical studies have been a part of the engineering curriculum for years, the new program will allow students to concentrate on that particular subject, said engineering professor Thomas Buchanan.
Buchanan said the engineering department introduced the biomedical engineering major two years ago. He said it reached maximum enrollment during the first year it was offered, and the university had to put a limit on the number of students because there was not enough room to accommodate the high demand.
"Adding the graduate program is a natural offspring," Buchanan said. "We have had students from chemical and mechanical engineering that do theses for biomedical problems since I came here in the mid-90s."
Biomedical engineers study new technology for medical and health issues and many biomedical students become medical researchers, later entering premedical careers or work in areas such as prosthetics.
In 2011, The Bureau of Labor Statistics found biomedical engineering to be the fastest growing field of work, with jobs growing by 72 percent in the next decade.
Elliot said most of the nation's top biomedical programs have both a major and a doctoral program. She said the established program would host 10 to 20 new students each year, but the initial class will consist of a smaller number of students.
The curriculum consists of one year of core classes in math, statistics and ethics, and students focus their studies in areas of their choice. The department's staff will consist of professors who are currently in the engineering and science colleges, Buchanan said.
"What's unique about the program is that it brings professors from all different departments together," he said. "There is a spirit of camaraderie among the faculty, and I hope it's shared with the students."
Elliott said the program will be funded by research grants from external sources, including the National Institute of Health and the National Science Foundation.
"The program does not incur any specific costs to the infrastructure already in place," she said. "And the research they perform brings new science to the country, solving biomedical problems."
She hopes the new program will later lead to a full biomedical engineering department. If the Ph.D and undergraduate programs develop positively, she said a master's degree in biomechanical engineering could be offered.
Biochemistry professor Andrew Teplyakov, chairman of the university's Graduate Student Senate, said the program will be evaluated after eight years of operation to determine its usefulness. The Faculty Senate will then vote to either accept or deny the program's continued existence.
"Any program we approve is viable and sustainable," Teplyakov said. "If it's approved by the dean, they have the resources available."
Sophomore Audrey Guyer, a biomedical engineering major, said the field is important because it addresses current health-related issues.
"The graduate program can help the undergrad program develop and bring in people who know more about it," Guyer said. "The programs can feed off of each other."
Sophomore Derek Hunter, a biomedical engineering major, stated in an email message that the demand for experts in the field is growing, and the graduate program can only improve the research university students are already conducting.
"The need for new medical technology will always be present," Hunter said. "Especially today when people are enthusiastic about improving our own health and discovering ways to battle the disease, injuries and natural deterioration."
Sophomore Kevin Chang, a biomedical engineering and computer sciences major, believes the idea of a graduate program is enticing, but may not be attractive to current undergraduate students.
"People generally try to go to other schools for their graduate work to become more exposed and diversified in their field of study," Chang said.