Wednesday, December 10, 2014

What Does Biological Engineering Mean?

As derivative as it sounds, I've learned an incredible amount about biological engineering this past semester. Between taking my first course 20 lab class and Analysis of Biomolecular Systems (20.320) I now have a firmer understanding of what biological engineering actually means. While I was in high school applying for colleges, I demarcated my interest in "Biological Engineering" because I thought it sounded cool. After I finished Thermodynamics of Biological Systems (20.110), I still really had not idea what BE actually meant. It was my first introduction to a Course 20 class, and it was not a very pleasant one. I didn't realize that it was a "weed-out" class, as I had seriously considered dropping BE. Now that I am nearing the end of this semester, I am seriously glad that I stuck it out.

A lot of family, friends, and people I recently met ask me: what is biological engineering? What's the difference between biological engineering, biology, biomedical engineering, and everything else? To me, biological engineering includes a lot more mathematics and modeling than vanilla biology. While every biology paper I have read includes plenty of math, it is more of a tool for statistical analysis than anything else. One of the most powerful advantages of applying engineering concepts to biology is the ability to mathematically model systems. I really enjoy engineering because it allows you to work creatively to solve issues. When I explain biological engineering to my peers, I like to compare the human body to an incredibly complex machine. Instead of electrical parts, we are made of a system of biological components. And the science of manipulating biological systems to achieve certain goals is what biological engineering seeks to teach.

Over the course of 20.109, we've adopted biological systems to perform novel goals. In Module 1, we engineered DNA to generate a desired product and analyze homologous recombination. In Module 2, we attempted to optimize a previously generated biological photography system. While Module 3 seemed a bit different, it is still very much biological engineering. By utilizing engineered viruses to create more efficient dye sensitized solar cells, we adopted and modified natural biological systems to serve a purpose. This past semester has really cemented my love of biological engineering. The marriage of biology, mathematics, and creativity makes Course 20 less of a choice of major and more of a hobby.

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