Thursday, December 11, 2014

"I'm good with math"

One of my pet peeves nowadays is when people assume I am a biomedical engineer, as opposed to someone studying bioengineering. I guess I can’t blame them, because I certainly equated the two pretty much up until I was applying for college and noticed that the programs were differentiated in terms of college departments. Even when I first saw that MIT had a “bioengineering” department instead of a “biomedical engineering” department, I told myself they were the same thing.

Oh how far I’ve come. While I pretty quickly realized the difference between the two topics after actually joining the department, 20.109 cemented that understanding for me. While biomedical engineers might look specifically towards medical applications, Module 3 in particular showed me how biological components can be harnessed to accomplish entirely non-biological functions. Never in a million years would I have imagined that I would be using viruses in creating a solar cell.

The modules we’ve explored in 20.109 are certainly examples I use when explaining biological engineering to my friends and families. (My younger sister now thinks I’m the coolest person ever.) I also look to examples of what we’ve done in classes like 20.320, particularly when distinguishing bioengineering from biology. I think back to the first day of that class, where we were told that while biologists might sketch out the schematic for a molecular pathway, bioengineers apply rate constant to the interactions, write out mathematical models, implement models on programs like MATLAB, and are then able to actually use the models and understanding garnered from them to inform applications such as drug development. (No offense biologists.) 20.109 takes that one step further by showing how to put all of that theory and modeling to the test in the lab. How cool is that!

With all of that in mind, what is biological engineering? For me, it’s taking an understanding of biology and applying that to pretty much anything, while still being able to model systems in a rigorous manner. And no, it’s not biomedical engineering. 

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