Biological engineering - also known as bioengineering - has applications to natural resource preservation, pharmaceuticals, and medical diagnosis. Chemical engineering has practical applications to plastics manufacturing, pollution control, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, and specialty paints. Due to the highly interdisciplinary nature of the field, various degree programs can prepare graduates for careers as microbial engineers, researchers, biomedical engineers and professors.
Degrees are offered at the bachelor's, master's and Ph.D. level. Coursework often includes biochemistry, thermodynamics, fluid mechanics and advanced biology, and are commonly available online at the undergraduate level. Independent research such as a Thesis or dissertation projects is often required by graduate-level programs.
Bachelor's Degree in Biological Engineering
From studying molecules to learning about biological interactions within ecosystems, students focus on how engineering can improve the quality of life by manipulating existing biological processes. Students in these four-year programs also learn to characterize, represent, and measure biological interactions. Graduates are prepared for relevant graduate-level programs; increasingly, bioengineers need graduate degrees for employment, especially in research settings.
Applicants are generally only required to have completed high school. Some programs require applicants to have earned at least a 'C' in undergraduate physics, chemistry, and mathematics coursework prior to admission.
While learning how to simulate interactions that organisms have with their environments - like microbial fermentation - students learn about applications to medical, environmental, and food engineering. Programs cover subjects including:
- Advanced biology
- Enzyme kinetics
- Cellular principles
Master's Degree in Chemical and Biological Engineering
Graduate research teams apply their skills to topics like finding environmentally friendly ways of cleaning up oil spills. Students in these 18-24 month long programs are required to complete a thesis or professional paper on a topic of interest, such as bioreactive materials or metabolic engineering. Students opting for a professional paper instead of a thesis may also be required to pass an examination. Applicants are required to have earned a bachelor's degree with a minimum grade point average of 3.0.
Students take on supervised research projects while learning process modeling and thermodynamics. Additional topics of study include:
- Electrochemical systems
- Numerical analysis
- Reaction engineering
- Separation processes
- Transport phenomena
Doctoral Degree in Chemical and Biological Engineering
Scholars in this field learn about protein aggregation, synthetic biology and the ethical implications of science. Once a program's core requirements are met, students tailor their studies to a specific area of interest to prepare for their thesis and live defense. Completion of these programs takes 5-6 years, assuming the student has not yet earned a master's degree. Graduates are prepared for careers in research, academia and materials science industries.
Applicants generally have earned a bachelor's degree in chemical or biological engineering, though graduates of relevant programs - like materials science - are eligible to apply. Applicants are generally required to have earned a minimum grade point average of 3.0 on a 4.0 scale.
Programs focus coursework on preparation for the doctoral candidacy exam, including the transfer of heat and mass as well as chemical kinetics. Commonly studied topics include:
- Fluid mechanics
- Mathematical methods
- Phase equilibria
- Statistical mechanics
Popular Career Options
Jobs are found in the military, gas, food and pharmaceuticals industries as well as at research laboratories and educational institutions. Careers open to doctoral-program graduates include:
- Chemical engineer
- Chemical and biological engineering professor
Projections from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) showed that employment of biomedical engineers was expected to increase 4% from 2018-2028 (www.bls.gov). This estimate was anticipated because of the aging population and a growing interest in cost-effective medical procedures and devices. The same source reported that as of 2018 there were 18,970 professional biomedical engineers. The BLS reported that the median annual wage for biomedical engineers was $88,550 in May, 2018. Continuing education is especially important in this field, according to the BLS.
Since most positions in microbial engineering, bachelor's degrees in biological engineering primary serve prepare students for graduate work. At the graduate level students may earn a master's degree or Ph.D. in preparation for careers in research and/or academia.