The beginning…

Monday February 24th marked the first day of my two week tour of US bioengineering institutions and a fascinating start it has been.


I began my day at MIT where Professor Doug Lauffenburger had arranged a comprehensive schedule of meetings for me to gain an insight about bioengineering at MIT.

At MIT they approach bioengineering from the biological angle, as Professor Lauffenburger described to me in the morning each engineering discipline has a scientific knowledge base with a range of applications. However bioengineering has traditionally approached it differently with a broad foundation in a range of disciplines including maths, physics, chemistry and biology but with one primary application area of healthcare/ medicine.

This was an interesting approach that got me thinking about where Imperial fitted within these two approaches. In my opinion Imperial views bioengineering in a more ‘square’ than triangular approach with a broad foundation of science and engineering and a broad range of applications.

Although I sense a lot of similarities between Imperial and MIT the distinct difference between the two institutions was the biological basis of the undergraduate course at MIT compared to the engineering basis of the undergraduate course at Imperial.

While at MIT I also met with Professor Roger Kamm and Professor Ron Weiss, two professors who represent distinctly different areas of bioengineering. Professor Kamm biomechanics and Professor Weiss synthetic biology.

What struck me from the meeting with Professor Weiss was the recognised importance of design in engineering and particularly synthetic and systems biology. Weiss is also one half of the two professor team jointly teaching a course at MIT and UC Berkeley with Professor Adam Arkin via alternating video link.

Professor Kamm introduced the Institute for Medical Engineering and Health (IMES) to me as the MIT equivalent to the Institute of Biomedical Engineering (IBME) at Imperial College London. “IMES aims to accelerate innovation across a spectrum of activities that span discovery, design, and delivery of new medical devices and products” whereas “IBME draws together scientists, medics and engineers to apply their extensive expertise to create revolutionary progress in medical diagnosis and treatment.”

While at MIT I also met with Dan Darling the Industry Outreach Coordinator, Dr Agi Stachowiak and Dr Natalie Kuldell. What was clear from these meetings is the clear comparisons between Imperial and MIT, from provision of summer school programmes, social media management and industry engagement to embedding communication and other transferable skills within academic courses and having vision for development of outreach/ engagement activities. Including the importance of high school education on the development of undergraduate courses.

The second Institutional stop on the tour was Boston University (BU) and their Chair of the Department Professor Solomon Eisenberg. BU have a different approach to bioengineering to MIT, with a biomedical engineering focus and a high number of undergraduate students (545 in 2012-13) compared to the 178 biological engineering majors at MIT and 293 biomedical engineering undergraduates at Imperial.


The BU Department of Bioengineering is also one of the earliest with foundations in the 1966, another interesting observation about the Department at BU is that it is only one of three engineering Departments at Boston University. The others being Electrical and Computer Engineering and Mechanical Engineering. The Department was also awarded one of the three Whitaker Foundation Leadership Awards back in 1996 alongside Johns Hopkins University and University of California- San Diego.

The Department of Bioengineering at BU also runs a course on Advanced Biomedical Design and Development Project as part of their postgraduate MEng in biomedical engineering. In this course students are immersed in the clinical environment for 6-8 weeks to gain an insight into the clinical area they will be developing a product for.

All in all its been a fascinating first day, lots of parallels with bioengineering in the UK and some expected differences. I for one am excited to see what further insight the rest of the trip has to offer.

‘Til next post

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