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New Division Will Offer an SM in Bioengineering, Toxicology

By Elaine Wan

A new division of bioengineering and environmental sciences within the School of Engineering plans to begin offering Master of Science degrees in Bioengineering and Toxicology.

The new division, to be inaugurated in July, is was response to increasing student demand. "MIT student interest in educational opportunities combining biology and engineering, at both undergraduate and graduate levels, has soared in recent years," said Professor Roger Kamm, curriculum committee chair of the biomedical engineering minor.

While the division will not offer a Bachelor's degree program, it is planning to offer a five-year combined SB/SM. A student would earn an SB degree in any discipline and an SM degree in Bioengineering or Toxicology.

A PhD program in bioengineering, analogous to the current program in toxicology, is being planned for Fall 1999, said Professor of Chemical Engineering Douglas A. Lauffenburger, director of the Center for Biomedical Engineering.

Lauffenburger and Professor of Toxicology Steven R. Tannenbaum will be co-directors of the new division.

Division links disciplines

The new division combines the disciplines of engineering, biology, and pharmacology.

"The new division will prepare students to explore fundamental issues underlying technologies affecting human health," Lauffenburger said.

The degree programs will place emphasis on developing new curricula in areas where engineering and biology intersect, including toxicology and pharmacology, while maintaining strong connections to a core departmental discipline.

The division will examine problems "from both medical and environmental perspectives, as well as biology-based technologies unrelated to human health," Lauffenburger said.

The division will be comprised primarily of faculty committing their time and efforts equally between a core department and the new division.

There are several research programs being directed by faculty in the new division, including new programs focusing on molecular design of therapeutics and biomaterials, cell culture biotechnology and tissue engineering, and computational biology.

Students demonstrate interest

Students looking for opportunities in biomedical engineering can currently also find an outlet in the Biomedical Engineering Society, affiliated with the Center for Biomedical Engineering.

"Many students in BMES who are enrolled in the minor would be enthusiastic about the five year Master's Program. I think this is an opportunity we've all been looking for," said Sara J. Godding '99, president of the group.

The group recently made a company tour to the Boston Scientific Corporation. "The tour gave students the opportunity to learn more about BSC and it gave BSC executives the opportunity to meet potential employees. We plan to arrange more company tours next year," Godding said.

Twenty students were invited to the tour and greeted by BSC's founder. Jay Lulla '97, who went on the tour, said "as someone who is interested in the biomedical industry, it was nice to see the attention that goes into producing medical products. It was an added bonus to hear the founder give perspective on the industry as a whole and how it fits into the field of medicine."

Students will continue to play a role in the development of the new division. "Student input is essential in helping develop an exciting and user-friendly program," Kamm said.

Existing minor spawns division

An minor program in Biomedical Engineering already exists at the undergraduate level. The program, founded in 1993, was MIT's first interdepartmental minor degree.

Many of these faculty were undergraduate advisers in their departments and saw the need for a unified, interdepartmental program in biomedical engineering.

The program was approved by a vote of the full MIT faculty in April, 1995. The minor is currently administered by the Center for Biomedical Engineering and open to students in all majors. An analogous minor in Environmental Health is in the early planning stages.