Published: May 29, 2020 By


And now, from the University of Colorado in Boulder the College of Engineering and Applied Science presents On CUE.

Josh Rhoten:

Welcome to this edition of OnCue, I am Josh Rhoten.


Biomedical Engineering is a multidisciplinary field that lies at the interface of medicine, biology and engineering with a focus on fundamentals in mechanics and electronics. Workers in the field will help to develop the next generation of life enhancing prosthetics, design sensors for use in the body or deploy new therapeutics. 

Students within the College of Engineering and Applied Science will take their first courses in this exciting field through a new Biomedical Engineering degree program which launches this fall. With it, undergrad and graduate students will take classes from across the university in engineering, biology and mathematics, learning from some of the best in the country along the way. The degrees are the first of their kind in the CU system, and no other university in the state offers a stand-alone undergraduate degree in the field.

Mark Borden is a professor in the Paul M. Rady department of mechanical engineering and the program director for the new program. He has a long history in the field dating back to his first career appointment coming out of school. He said like many other biomedical engineers, he is inspired by Leonardo Da Vinci. 

Mark Borden: 

The Vitruvian by Leonardo Da Vinci is often a symbol of biomedical engineering. When one looks at the sketches of Leonardo Da Vinci, it is often clear that Leonardo was inspired by nature and the human body for the designs of his machines. I think many biomedical engineers are inspired by Leonardo Da Vinci. At least I am.

I think that the Human body is the most complex machine in the known universe. It offers us a rich context in which we can teach engineering principles. And also I think it has to be said that biomedical engineers have a profound desire to develop technology to diagnose and treat disease – that’s really what motivates us. But in my mind it's deeper than a one way transfer of knowledge from engineering to biology to medicine. Biomedical engineering is itself a context in which to teach engineering fundamentals. So for example one can learn statics from human bone – skeleton, tissue and the muscle structure of the body. One can teach dynamics by looking at human motion and performance. One can teach electronics by reverse engineering a pulse oximeter which measures oxygen and heart rate. And also, teaching control systems from the nervous systems – for example you have a very simple feedback control loop that pulls your  hand back when you touch something hot. But you have a more complex logic control that regulates breathing. 


CU Boulder is one of the top engineering programs in the country and is world renowned for research – particularly in biomedical engineering said Borden. That, coupled with a deep strength in the mechanical, electrical and – most importantly – chemical and biological departments, set this program up well Borden said.


At CU Boulder we’re lucky to have one of top Chemical and biological engineering programs in the nation and really the world. And in fact my bachelors and doctoral degrees are both in chemical engineering. And my first faculty appointment was in chemical engineering. So I know very well that chemical and biological engineers have a unique molecular level perspective which can be quite powerful actually in analyzing and solving problems in biology and medicine. Having that strength allows us to focus on mechanics and electronics. Again in the context in human anatomy physiology and medical technology and medical devices and so on. So our undergraduates will take no less than five mechanics courses and five electronics courses. That really provides depth in those fundamental areas so at CU we have all bases covered. In Chem/bio you have that molecular level fundamental approach, and in biomedical engineering we have fundamentals in mechanics and electronics. Both programs are collaborating together to provide a really rich and interdisciplinary undergraduate experience.


Chemical and Biological Engineering Department Chair Charles Musgrave has been deeply involved in developing this new degree as well. Last year, his department was ranked at number 10 in the 2020 U.S. News and World Reports Best Graduate Schools rankings. 

Charles Musgrave:

The chemical and biological engineering department is very highly ranked and recognized around the world as being one of the top departments for having fantastic faculty and facilities. We’re in a world class building that has world class labs where our faculty conduct research. Many of our students get to come in and as part of their undergraduate education actually do research that can be published. A nice advantage of being a chemical and biological engineering student here at the university, is not only do they get to take advantage of these great facilities – but the faculty are very strong and recognized around the world. And so you get to work on these problems that are at the very forefront, cutting edge areas of research.


Musgrave said his department had a lot to add to the new program, building from their already strong position.


Chemical engineering teaches the principles that cover a broad range of areas, many of which have nothing to do with biomedical engineering but those principles also do help in various aspects of biomedical engineering. So there's places where there's overlap and there's also places where there isn’t. So for example, In biomedical engineering – if you are going to design a new medical bed or artificial limb, that is something where chemical engineers typically wouldn’t have a whole lot to contribute to that particular engineering problem. But lets say you’re designing something such as a drug delivery device, or something you could implant that would release drug in a controlled way over time maybe with an external stimulus. Those kinds of things are the things that chemical engineers could contribute to. Or for example, chemical engineers have a broad range of knowledge in areas of kinetics and chemistry and chemical transport – all kinds of things that could go into areas of biomedical engineering related to for example pharmaceutical industry. Chemical engineers are uniquely prepared to deal with the kinds of systems that are related to medicine – not only at molecular level and how these particular drugs interact with body, but also how would you actually manufacture them. 


This new program will also unlock new avenues for partnership across the University of Colorado system, said Musgrave, strengthening the bonds between our college of engineering and CU Anschutz especially.


 Many of the types of problems worked on at the medical campus are the kinds of problems engineers can help with. So they might have some very interesting new technology that they want to develop and they know it can be very helpful for various medical applications and solving problems related to all kinds of things. It could be diabetes, it could be cancer, it could be a virus and the issue is the doctors are trained to do clinical research and oftentimes trained to understand the mechanisms by which a medicine may work. But they’re not trained in actually doing engineering. And so there’s a lot of opportunity for engineers from CU to work with doctors at Anschutz and basically solve some of the most critical and important problems facing society.


Borden said he was excited to start the program and eager to see the impact students have on the world coming out of it. 


I would tell them to look in the intensive care unit and you’ll see all that instrumentation that's wall to wall that's used to diagnose, monitor and treat the patient and it's all designed and maintained by biomedical engineers. But I think we all know it needs improvement. We need to develop better medical technologies because there’s still many injuries and diseases that cant be adequately treated. In terms of coming to CU Boulder I would just point out that we have this world class research program here in Engineering at CU Boulder that’s probably the top of the Mountain West. And so many of our faculty are already participating in biomedical engineering. And now we finally have a degree program that's designed to convey all this research knowledge directly to our students.


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