Anyone who has ever experienced a broken bone, torn muscle, or inflamed tendon can testify to the importance of exercise in proper healing. From a science and engineering standpoint, however, there is much that isn't known about the physiological process known as "mechanotransduction."
"I'm really intrigued by how cells sense and respond to mechanical loading," says associate professor of chemical and biological engineering Stephanie Bryant, who specializes in tissue engineering and biomaterials. "There's so much we don't know about the physiology—for example, why cartilage degenerates when joints aren't used."
Bryant and her students are designing synthetic biomaterials called hydrogels, which act as scaffolds to support and promote healing while compression and tensile forces necessary to the growth of tissue cells are applied. The hydrogels, created through a process called photopolymerization, contain living cells that when given the right cue direct natural tissue growth.
Using a patent-pending, high throughput bioreactor that her team designed and built in the chemical and biological engineering department, the researchers can mimic the effects of walking, running, and even various cycles of rest and exercise like those in everyday life.
Bryant's group also submitted a patent on a newly engineered biomaterial scaffold that has been shown successful in retaining the new matrix that tissue cells are producing while undergoing mechanical forces.
The University of Colorado Boulder’s chemical and biological engineering undergraduate program emphasizes open-ended problems, computer applications, and undergraduate research. The program is characterized by a high degree of faculty-student interactions, both inside and outside the classroom. More than half of undergraduate students participate in research in biotechnology, biomedical and tissue engineering, and pharmaceutical engineering. The department also features a well-established co-op program, which allows students to gain professional experience and often leads to job offers. In addition to the standard chemical and biological engineering degree program, a pre-medicine curriculum is also defined. Students can gain professional exposure through student chapters of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers and the Biomedical Engineering Society on campus.
The Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering is one of the top departments in the nation in terms of research. The faculty has won numerous awards for their research accomplishments in a variety of research areas that span from biological engineering to functional materials. The department hosts four interdisciplinary research centers including the Colorado Center for Biorefining and Biofuels, the Center for Pharmaceutical Biotechnology, the Center for Fundamentals and Applications of Photopolymerization, and the Center for Membrane Applied Science and Technology.
Undergraduate students are encouraged to pursue research opportunities through independent study, the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program, the Discovery Learning Apprenticeship program, or research assistantships with faculty. The department offers a Senior Thesis Option as well as a Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) summer program sponsored by the National Science Foundation.
Chemical and biological engineering graduates are working at bio-based companies such as CaridianBCT, OPX Biotechnologies, and SomaLogic, as well as energy companies like Chevron, ConocoPhillips, and Shell. Many also choose to go onto graduate school. About 20 percent of CU-Boulder engineering bachelor’s graduates (college-wide) continue onto graduate school, gaining admittance to top schools such as MIT, Princeton, Harvard, Cornell, Stanford, University of California Berkeley, and the University of Texas at Austin.Where do CU
Biomedical engineers are expected to have a much faster than average growth rate, with employment projected to increase 72 percent or more through 2018. (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics)
The average salary nationally for chemical and biomedical engineering graduates with a bachelor's degree in 2010 was $49,690. CU-Boulder graduates with a bachelor's degree in chemical and biological engineering reported an average starting offer of $52,050.
Keep up with the latest news about the college by reading the 2013 issue of CUEngineering magazine online.