What is Biological Engineering
Biological engineering is engineering applied to living systems on a range of scales from molecules to whole organisms. Our discipline has progressed from the interface of biological and engineering systems to the development of biological components with specific functions and the design of systems incorporating these biological components. Cells and enzymes are used as sensors. Nucleic acid is engineered to make molecular structures for drug delivery and nano-bar codes to identify specific biological and chemical elements. Phytochelatins synthesized by plants, yeast and algae are employed to detoxify metals in the environment. Engineered microbial films are used to biodegrade man-made and toxic organics. Metabolic pathways in target organisms can be engineered to enable novel biological function. Complex enzymatic systems are modified with “designer” enzymes to convert plant material to biobased products, including liquid fuels. Animals and plants serve as pharmaceutical “factories”. Tissue engineering is used to develop compatible biological components on a large scale. Novel medical devices and drug delivery systems are developed by altering biological systems on a small scale. Engineering analysis and computational modeling are used to develop predictive tools for design of biological, environmental and food products providing improved efficiency, quality and safety.
Conceptually, biological engineering involves: 1) characterizing, measuring and modeling of systemic processes within biological systems; 2) understanding the relationships between biological systems and their environment; and 3) designing components, processes and systems that protect, influence, control, and employ biological materials, components and organisms. Biological engineering integrates engineering topics, such as mechanics, fluid flow, chemical kinetics, electronics, and computer applications with basic biology.
The mission of our undergraduate program is to educate students as engineers who use biology to solve problems and apply engineering principles to biological systems. We prepare students to drive innovation in diverse fields, including biotechnology, environment, public health, energy, food and agriculture. Upon graduation, students pursue private and public sector careers, advanced studies and professional degrees.
The Program Educational Objectives
The Program Educational Objectives (PEOs) of the Biological Engineering major are to prepare graduates who:
- Become valued in their work related to Biological Engineering and associated fields and professions;
- Pursue advanced degrees in engineering and related professional fields, and engage in lifelong learning outside the classroom;
- Develop and exhibit leadership qualities in their professional engineering work;
- Contribute to the improvement of their communities, their profession, and the world;
- Communicate effectively in a range of situations, both inside and outside the biological engineering field;
- Demonstrate the highest standards of professional, ethical, and civic responsibility in all endeavors, holding paramount the health and safety of the public and the protection of the environment.
These PEOs describe our long-term aspirations for our students as they transition from full time learning into professional practice. PEOs are skills, behaviors and accomplishments for which we seek to prepare our graduates, and towards which we intend them to progress within three to five years after graduation.
The BE program is accredited by the Engineering Accreditation Commission of ABET, http://www.abet.org. Students may seek engineering professional licensing after graduation. There are two administrative pathways Cornell students may use to complete the Biological Engineering program. Students may matriculate in the College of Engineering and affiliate with the Biological Engineering major, or they may matriculate in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences with a major in Biological Engineering. The curriculum and degree requirements are the same for all students in the Biological Engineering program regardless of the administrative pathway they use to complete it. Faculty advisors are assigned to each undergraduate at the time they formally enter the Biological Engineering major.
- Affiliation (College of Engineering Enrolled Students)
Students who matriculate in the College of Engineering (CoE) may affiliate with the Biological Engineering program in their second year of study. (Transfer students entering the CoE affiliate with their major program at the time of transfer.) Affiliated students pay endowed tuition and complete all Biological Engineering requirements while enrolled in the engineering college.
- Joint Program (College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Enrolled Students)
Students who enroll in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS) as freshmen majoring in Biological Engineering complete a joint degree program with the College of Engineering. In the joint degree program, students register in CALS for their freshmen and sophomore years and then are registered jointly with CALS and CoE for their junior and senior years. The primary college in the junior and senior year continues to be with CALS. Students in the joint degree program pay state contract college tuition all four years of their program.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q1. I’m still confused about the differences between majoring in biological engineering through CALS and the College of Engineering, could you explain those?
A1. All of the differences happen in the first year, so if you’re already at Cornell, you can ignore this Q&A.
Students who matriculate in CALS join the BEE department from their first day. They are assigned an advisor in BEE who will normally remain their advisor for all four years. They take BEE 1510 in the fall and BEE 1200 in the spring (MATLAB programming and the BEE freshman seminar respectively). Unless they have AP credit for chemistry, they take CHEM 2070. They may choose to take an ENGRI course but are not obliged to do so.
Students who matriculate in the CoE are assigned a “Core Curriculum” advisor who will advise them until they affiliate with their engineering major field. In their first year they take an ENGRI course, ENGRG 1050, and CS 1110 or 1112 (At BE we prefer CS 1112 but will accept either). Unless they have AP credit for chemistry, they take CHEM 2090. In their sophomore year they affiliate with BE, EnvE or another engineering department, at which point they switch to a new advisor in their major.
Students who transfer into BEE from another CALS major remain in CALS; those who switch affiliation from another engineering major remain in CoE. Students who transfer in from another college (e.g. HumEc, A&S) or another university may transfer in via either CALS or CoE, though historically most have come in through CALS. Missing courses in programming, chemistry etc. for such students are selected according to the student’s educational and scheduling needs rather than by CALS or CoE rules.