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BE May Skip Lottery As Demand Matches Supply

By Shannon Greer

After an initial surge of interest, students wanting to enroll into bioengineering, MIT’s newest major, may not have to enter a lottery.

Although the size of the undergraduate BE program was initially intended to be capped at 20 students, the number of students who have indicated serious interest to the department, about 30 total, may be small enough that the department can squeeze everyone in after all.

“We anticipate that the number of students who will have completed the requirements at the end of fall term … is about the number we will be able to accept,” wrote BE Professor Linda Griffith in an e-mail.

She also wrote an e-mail to students in BE.110, Statistical Thermodynamics of Biomolecular Systems, saying that “we would rather not conduct a lottery if we don’t have to, so we have been making arrangements to accommodate a few extra students this year.”

Students interested in the BE program were not allowed to declare the major as a freshman as is normal for other majors. Instead, they first had to pass Statistical Thermodynamics of Biomolecular Systems (BE.110) before applying. Those who have taken BE.110 as sophomores this fall can submit application forms online and declare their intentions to major.

At this point in time, many of the BE.110 students interviewed are still unsure as to whether or not they are going to apply for the BE program.

“The lottery makes the decision harder because it is so permanent,” said Katherine H. Aull ’08. “You don’t want to apply and later drop out. Then you end up taking away a spot from someone else.”

D. Andre Green ’08, another BE.110 student, said that the lottery was an issue because “it makes it hard to plan for next semester and stuff in the future.”

“I know several people who chose not to apply [to the lottery] because they were expecting interest to be so high that many students would not get in,” Green said.

Currently there are only 65 sophomores enrolled in BE.110, and only 30 of those appear to be seriously interested in the new major, Griffith wrote in her e-mail to the class.

Adapted from the MIT PhD biological engineering program, the undergraduate major emphasizes more of an “engineering analysis, design, and synthesis approaches to modern biology at the molecular to systems level” than its counterpart the BME minor, according to the BE department’s Web site.

A BE major’s core subjects would include Molecular, Cellular, and Tissue Biomechanics (BE.310J); Biomolecular Kinetics and Cell Dynamics (BE.320); Biological Engineering Computation (BE.181); and a capstone design project (BE.380). There are currently 38 faculty affiliated with the department, including joint appointments.

Other universities are also feeling pressure to change their biology research to incorporate aspects of both medical and non-medical engineering. Big name universities such as Cornell and Purdue have recently approved undergraduate Biological Engineering programs, according to their departmental Web sites.