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New Major in Bioengineering Prompted by Student Interest

By Shuai Chen

MIT plans to offer a new bioengineering major to students in the class of 2009. The major is currently under development and will expand on the already-existing Biomedical Engineering minor.

The major may be available to students in the class of 2008, though there is “no expectation students coming in now can do it” said Linda G. Griffith, chair of the Bioengineering Undergraduate Program Committee.

Before bioengineering can officially become a major, it will have to be approved by the Committee on Curricula, the Committee on Undergraduate Programs, the Faculty Policy Committee, and eventually the whole faculty.

The bioengineering division has not yet submitted a proposal to the curriculum committee, said David Micus, the executive officer of the curriculum committee.

Student interest sparks major

The new major is being developed because of “interest on [the] part of the students” said Robert P. Redwine, Dean of Undergraduate Education.

Alexis R. DeSieno ’05, the president of the Biomedical Engineering Society, said that “based on the Activities Midway, we had around a hundred freshmen” express interest in a future bioengineering major.

However, the labs that will be used for bioengineering classes currently only have enough space for “around fifty students per class” said Roger D. Kamm, a professor of biological engineering.

Griffith said that it is “too early on in the stage” to decide what to do if more than fifty students enroll in the program.

New classes planned for BE major

The core curriculum of the bioengineering major will include many classes already offered, as well as some new classes.

Under development for the bioengineering core are classes such as Genetics and Genomics, Biomolecular Kinetics and Cell Dynamics, and Biological Instrumentation and Measurement laboratory. Classes that are currently offered and will also be in the bioengineering core include Differential Equations (18.03), Organic Chemistry (5.12), Laboratory Fundamentals in Biological Engineering (BE.109), and Statistical Thermodynamics of Biomolecular Systems (BE.011/2.772J).

The bioengineering department is also offering a “internship program connected with companies [that] should be available before the major,” Griffith said.

The faculty for the new bioengineering major will be drawn from those already teaching at MIT. Over the past five years, there has been a “gradual increase in faculty” in this area, Griffith said.

“At this point, most of the faculty who would be teaching are already here,” Kamm said.

They have “more than 30 faculty in the division and around twenty full time equivalents,” Griffith said.

Redwine says that he does not expect the new major to cost much because “departments change all the time [and] we continuously see changes.”

Griffith said that funding for the bioengineering major will come from both inside and outside sources.

“The Whitaker Foundation has provided several million dollars to MIT for bioengineering,” said Griffith.

“I’m really excited about how it’s going to strengthen the ties between engineering and science,” said Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering Matthew J. Lang, an advisor for the biomedical engineering society.

“I wish it were offered earlier,” said Lili X. Peng ’05, vice-president of special projects for the Biomedical Engineering Society.

Courses II, X add bioengineering

Last spring, Course X-B, Chemical and Biological Engineering, passed the Committee on Curricula. The program will have to be approved by the Committee on Undergraduate Programs, the Faculty Policy Committee, as well as the whole faculty before it is offered as an official major.

The major “should be available fall 2004” Micus said.

Course “10-B is essentially a chemistry core with a major in [biology],” said Griffith.

Course II is also offering a II-A “biotrack,” where students take the core mechanical engineering classes as well as bioengineering classes.