What is biomedical engineering?

When engineers, biologists, mathematicians, physicists, computer scientists, physicians and medical researchers work together, they are able to better understand how the human body works and consequently create clinical solutions.  This interdisciplinary collaboration, broadly termed as biomedical engineering, improves healthcare and eases aging.

The field has led to advances in diagnostics such as imaging, materials that form the basis of implants and prosthetics, and therapies for drug delivery that use novel electronics and manufacturing. Biomedical engineers have improved the quality of life for countless patients by making hospitals cleaner and safer, enhancing public health.

Among the earliest modern practices of biomedical engineering include the development of the stethoscope exactly 200 years ago in 1816 and the use of X-rays for imaging. The respirator was developed in 1927, blood banks were established in the 1930s, heart lung bypass was first used in 1939, and cardiac catherization and angiography was introduced in the 1940s.

Biomedical engineers brought the electron microscope into medicine, particularly pathology, in the 1950s, which lead to the development of imaging devices, such as body scanners using radioactive techniques to detect tumours.

Today, these engineers manipulate and manufacture structures at the nanometer and DNA scales, and micron sized and cellular length scales. They design electrical circuits and mechanical devices at the human body scale. They also develop knee, hip and dental implants.

Some are proficient in robotics and use these machines to improve surgical outcomes. Biomedical engineers develop methods for the industrial production of cells, tissues, devices, therapies and implants. They conduct large scale simulations, such as for drug discovery, human kinematics and cardiovascular flows.

Because it is so interdisciplinary, the field of biomedical engineering is large. It includes the intersections of many engineering disciplines with medicine and the life sciences. There is no unique pathway to become a biomedical engineer. Academic entries into this interdisciplinary field are equally dispersed along the Bachelor’s, Master’s and Ph.D. levels.

Career placements for biomedical engineers, though broad, are similar to those for other engineers and university graduates.  They work in industry, universities, government agencies and, more so than other engineers, in hospitals.

Next fall, 140 students will enter McMaster University’s Integrated Biomedical Engineering & Health Sciences program, which is a unique interdisciplinary pathway into the profession. First of its kind in Canada, and possibly also the first globally in its specifics, this interdisciplinary 5-year biomedical program integrates engineering and medicine, allowing multiple pathways to careers in health, engineering and entrepreneurship.

After a common first year, students enter either the Bachelor of Engineering and Biomedical Engineering or the Honours Bachelor of Health Sciences in Health Engineering Science and Entrepreneurship degree programs.

In subsequent years, all 140 students in the cohort will collaborate through a series of project –based design courses. Thus, they will further their knowledge of contemporary socially relevant issues, ethics, and professionalism, based on which they will create solutions for real-world healthcare problems.

This 2017 cohort will graduate in 2022. I’m very sure that it will consist of engaged citizen scholars who will go on to transform our world through their interdisciplinary and collaborative education in biomedical engineering.

Here’s a 2016 prediction about the 2022 cohort: File their future under #ThingsGetBetterAllThe Time


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