What is Biomedical Engineering?

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What is a Biomedical Engineer?

A Biomedical Engineer uses traditional engineering expertise to analyze and solve problems in biology and medicine, providing an overall enhancement of health care. Students choose the biomedical engineering field to be of service to people, to partake of the excitement ofworking with living systems, and to apply advanced technology to the complex problems of medical care. The biomedical engineer works with other health care professionals including physicians, nurses, therapists and technicians. Biomedical engineers may be called upon in a wide range of capacities: to design instruments, devices, and software, to bring together knowledge from many technical sources to develop new procedures, or to conduct research needed to solve clinical problems.

What are Some of the Specialty Areas?

In this field there is continual change and creation of new areas due to rapid advancement in technology; however, some of the well established specialty areas within the field of biomedical engineering are: bioinstrumentation; biomaterials; biomechanics; cellular, tissue and genetic engineering; clinical engineering; medical imaging; orthopaedic surgery; rehabilitation engineering; and systems physiology.

Bioinstrumentation is the application of electronics and measurement techniques to develop devices used in diagnosis and treatment of disease.

Biomaterials include both living tissue and artificial materials used for implantation.

Biomechanics applies classical mechanics (statics, dynamics, fluids, solids, thermodynamics, and continuum mechanics) to biological or medical problems.

Cellular, Tissue and Genetic Engineering involve more recent attempts to attack biomedical problems at the microscopic level.

Clinical Engineering is the application of technology to health care in hospitals.

Medical Imaging combines knowledge of a unique physical phenomenon (sound, radiation, magnetism, etc.) with high speed electronic data processing, analysis and display to generate an image.

Orthopaedic Bioengineering is the specialty where methods of engineering and computational mechanics have been applied for the understanding of the function of bones, joints and muscles, and for the design of artificial joint replacements.

Rehabilitation Engineering is a growing specialty area of biomedical engineering. Rehabilitation engineers enhance the capabilities and improve the quality of life for individuals with physical and cognitive impairments. They are involved in prosthetics, the development of home, workplace and transportation modifications and the design of assistive technology that enhance seating and positioning, mobility, and communication.

Systems Physiology is the term used to describe that aspect of biomedical engineering in which engineering strategies, techniques and tools are used to gain a comprehensive and integrated understanding of the function of living organisms ranging from bacteria to humans. Computer modeling is used in the analysis of experimental data and in formulating mathematical descriptions of physiological events.

Examples of Specific Activities

Work done by biomedical engineers may include a wide range of activities such as:

  • Artificial organs
  • Automated patient monitoring
  • Blood chemistry sensors
  • Advanced therapeutic and surgical devices
  • Expert systems and artificial intelligence for clinical decision making
  • Design of optimal clinical laboratories
  • Medical imaging systems
  • Computer modeling of physiologic systems
  • Biomaterials design
  • Biomechanics of injury and wound healing
  • Sports medicine

Where do Biomedical Engineers Work?

Biomedical engineers are employed in universities, in industry, in hospitals, in research facilities of educational and medical institutions, in teaching, and in government regulatory agencies. They often serve a coordinating or interfacing function, using their background in both the engineering and medical fields.

Where are biomedical engineers employed, what are the salaries and what is the future demand?

In 2009, the Bureau of labor Statistics found that there were 14,760 biomedical engineers working in the US (www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes172031.htm). They estimate employment growth of 72 percent over the net decade, much faster than the average for all occupations. The aging of the population and a growing focus on health issues will drive demand for better medical devices and equipment designed by biomedical engineers.

Median annual earnings of biomedical engineers were $78,860 in 2009. The middle 50 percent earned between $60,980 and $100,890. Major categories of employment include 3,440 were employed in medical equipment and supplies manufacturing, 2,680 in scientific research and development and 2,410 in pharmaceutical and medicine manufacturing.

How Should I Prepare for a Career in Biomedical Engineering?

The biomedical engineering student should first plan to become a good engineer who then acquires a working understanding of the life sciences and terminology. Good communication skills are also important, because the biomedical engineer provides a vital link with professionals having medical, technical, and other backgrounds.

At the college level, the student usually selects engineering as a field of study, then chooses a discipline concentration within engineering. Many students continue their education in graduate school where they obtain valuable biomedical research experience at the Masters or Doctoral level. When entering the job market, the graduate should be able to point to well defined engineering skills for application to the biomedical field, with some project or in-the-field experience in biomedical engineering.

What are Some Little Known Facts About Biomedical Engineering?

  • Biomedical engineers play a significant role in mapping the human genome, robotics, tissue engineering, and in nanotechnology.

  • Biomedical engineering has the highest percentage of female students in all of the engineering specialties.

  • 30% of biomedical engineering graduates are employed in manufacturing.

  • Many biomedical engineering graduates go on to medical school. The percentage of students applying to medical school is as high as 50% in some programs.

  • There are 15 chapters of the national biomedical engineering honor society, Alpha Eta Mu Beta, located on college campuses throughout the United States.

  • BMES has more than 132 student chapters on college and university campuses.

  • Judith A. Resnick, PhD, a U.S. astronaut who died when Challenger exploded in 1986, was a biomedical engineer working at NIH from 1974 to 1977.

  • Willem Kolff, MD PhD, a biomedical engineer and physician, designed early artificial hearts and the first kidney dialysis machine. He supervised the first implanted artificial heart into Barney Clark, and his latest work is on a portable artificial lung.

  • The National Institutes of Health has a new institute for biomedical engineering and imaging. The Institute (NIBIB) coordinates with the biomedical imaging and bioengineering programs of other agencies and NIH Institutes to support imaging and engineering research with potential medical applications and facilitates the transfer of such technologies to medical applications.

  • A single U.S. foundation, the Whitaker Foundation in Arlington, Virginia, has made significant contributions to the development of this profession. Whitaker Foundation grants more than doubled the number of biomedical engineering academic programs in the United States by adding 38 new departments in this field.

(Courtesy of bmes.org)

See the presentation from the weekly meeting on Sept. 10, 2014 for a quick summary!


Weekly Meeting Information
When: Wednesday's 5 PM
ECCR 131


Design Meeting Information
When: Thursday's 6:30 PM
Where: ECCR 110


Industry Advisory Council-Department of Mechanical Engineering

Colorado Engineering Dean's office

Colorado Engineering Dean's Office