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A New Proposed SB Degree
in Chemical-Biological Engineeering: Course XB

Karen K. Gleason

Background and Motivation

To complement our existing Course X and XC SB degree programs, the Department of Chemical Engineering proposes to offer a new SB Degree in Chemical-Biological Engineering: Course XB, starting with the '04-'05 MIT Bulletin. After passing through a full series of departmental, school, and institute review stages, this proposal was presented at the Institute Faculty Meeting of October 15, 2003, and is scheduled to be voted on in the same forum on December 17, 2003.

The educational opportunity afforded by the new XB degree reflects the long standing recognition of the importance of biology as a fundamental science in biomedical and industrial applications by the Chemical Engineering Department at MIT. Rapid advances in molecular biology and the recent explosion in genomics research have created numerous opportunities for applications of biology in medicine and industries such as biotechnology, pharmaceuticals, fine chemicals, and materials. Growth of these professional opportunities brings to the forefront the importance of establishing new educational pathways for engineers that include biology as an enabling science.

Quantification and integration of biological systems have created numerous prospects for exciting research in biotechnological and medical applications, including biochemical reactor engineering, bioseparations, biocatalysis, metabolic engineering, gene therapy, biomaterials, cell and tissue engineering, drug delivery, drug design and discovery, functional genomics, and lab-on-a-chip devices. The pervasive intellectual impact of biology on chemical engineering is reflected in the activities and planning of major players in the chemical industry, such as Dow and Dupont, and of chemical engineering departments across the country.

Chemical Engineering at MIT has played a leading role in cellular and molecularly-based biological engineering application. Approximately 35 years ago, Professor Emeritus Edward W. Merrill taught the first biomedical engineering class at MIT. Leaders on our faculty who have brought and continue to bring fundamental ideas from biology to bear on chemical engineering applications include Professors Clark K. Colton, Charles L. Cooney, William M. Deen, Robert S. Langer, Douglas A. Lauffenburger, Gregory Stephanopoulos, Daniel I.C. Wang, and Dane K. Wittrup. Only a few select highlights of achievements from this group follow. Professor Langer was awarded the 2002 Charles Stark Draper Prize, the highest honor conferred by the National Academy of Engineering for developing biocompatible polymer technologies that control the release of medicine over time. In 1985, Professors Wang, Cooney, and Gregory Stephanopoulos founded the NSF Engineering Research Center (ERC), the Biotechnology Process Engineering Center (BPEC), which is still operating today, making it the longest running ERC in NSF history. Chemical Engineering provided the largest number of engineering faculty, including the current director, Professor Lauffenburger, to the creation of the Biological Engineering Division. Biological ideas and applications have been incorporated into the teaching and research of an even larger group of our department's faculty.

Interest in biology is also significant and growing among the undergraduate chemical engineering students. In June 2002, 10 X/VII double majors were granted and 25 Course X students completed the Biomedical Engineering (BME) Minor. There are additional students who fall short of meeting the total number of units mandated for a double degree or encounter scheduling difficulties that do not permit them to complete all of the requirements for the BME minor. The new XB program would provide clear acknowledgement of the education students receive in both chemical engineering and biology within the units required for a single SB degree.

The structure of the Course XB degree parallels that of the traditional Course X program. In addition to the General Institute Requirements, both programs have three areas of emphasis:

1) Fundamental education in chemistry and biology delivered by faculty of these respective science departments;

2) Education in the triad of core chemical engineering sciences: thermodynamics, transport, and kinetics with an emphasis on quantitative methods of analysis;

3) Integration and synthesis of fundamental science and engineering science principles for solving engineering problems and understanding complex systems.

The overall number of required units and number of subjects for the Course X and XB degrees will be identical. In addition, the early requirements are similar so that undergraduates should have the ability to switch between the X and XB programs after the sophomore year.

The following sections address each of these three segments of the curriculum in more detail.


Required Subjects in Chemistry and Biology

As can been seen in the table, many of the fundamental science requirements for Course X and XB are similar. Requiring biochemistry (7.05 or 5.07) of both X and XB students allows biologically oriented applications to be included for both groups of students in the later engineering science and integrative subjects. The additional biology subjects required by the Course XB degree are the introductory biology lab, 7.02; genetics, 7.03; and cell biology, 7.06. The three additional biology subjects for course XB are accommodated by eliminating the introductory chemistry laboratory, 5.310; separations, 10.32; and 24 units of restricted electives in chemical engineering. Note that the XB degree requirements include all of the subjects required by the Course VII SB departmental program and thus provide a comprehensive background in modern biological science.

In discussions with the Biology Department, a concern was raised regarding the ability to accommodate the XB majors in the laboratory subject 7.02. While over the past four years, between 24 and 42 Course X majors were among the approximately 200 students per year that completed 7.02, the high demand for this subject necessitates a lottery. To address this limitation, the Chemical Engineering Department will offer a course jointly with the Biology Department, 7.020J/10.702J. This new subject will mirror the content of 7.02 and provide additional capacity for up to 36 students per year. The first offering of 7.020J/10.702J is planned for spring 2005.


Chemical Engineering Core Subjects

The proposed XB degree will retain the three core chemical engineering topics of the Course X degree. However, as the result of an extensive curriculum review process during spring 2002, increased biological applications are being developed for two of the chemical engineering core subjects. The renewal of the thermodynamics subject, 10.213, has been undertaken by Professors T. Alan Hatton, Jefferson W. Tester, and Karen K. Gleason. The redesign of the kinetics offering, 10.37, has been undertaken by Professors Cooney and Gregory Stephanopoulos. Last year, the course descriptions of these two subjects were updated to reflect these changes. These revised subjects should serve both Course X and XB majors well.

Although our department feels that this increased emphasis on life science will serve all of our students well, we also believe there is a significant group of students who would benefit from completing all of the fundamental biology courses; and this requires the establishment of a new XB major. Once the Course XB major is established, further course development projects in our department and in other programs throughout MIT will be considered as future means to continue evolving the requirements for the Course XB major. In the next year, alternative courses for the core transport subjects, 10.301 and 10.302, are expected to be put in place.


Integrative and Synthetic Subjects

Integration of engineering concepts in Course X and XB are addressed via an introductory subject, a 24-unit senior design series, and a capstone laboratory experience.

The introductory subject, 10.10, will be common to both Course X and XB. The 10.10 course currently incorporates both chemically and biologically driven examples of engineering applications.

In addition, the 24-unit senior capstone design subject, Integrated Chemical Engineering (ICE), will be used for both degrees. Since its inception, ICE has been a modular subject. While some of the modules are mandatory, the students can select among various topics for completing the remaining modules. The Course XB students will be advised to select biologically-oriented elective modules, such as the one offered by Professor Langer on controlled drug delivery. As a result of the spring 2002 curriculum review, Professor Gregory J. McRae offered a new mandatory ICE module on continuous bioprocessing. Additional development of new biologically-oriented ICE design modules is anticipated.

A new capstone engineering laboratory, 10.28, has been developed for Course XB by Professors Wang and Greg Stephanopoulos. The 10.28 laboratory subject was offered for the first time this fall and demand for enrollment exceeded the initial limit of 18 students. Additional capacity will be made available in the coming years.


Closing Comments

Significant faculty planning and departmental resources were devoted to the design and logistical planning for the proposed Course XB program and clearly demonstrate the department's strong commitment to undergraduate education. The ability to offer new laboratory subjects required for the degree is only possible because of investment in the renovation and outfitting of a new undergraduate teaching lab.

The emphasis on fundamentals and quantitative approaches serve as an excellent background for engineering graduate studies and professional degrees in medicine. Retention of the full ICE design experience and capstone engineering laboratory experience will be valuable to students seeking professional industrial employment immediately upon completion of their SB degree. These important attributes of the proposed Course XB degree support the department's mission statement: "To be the global leader in chemical engineering education and research. We train students to be the best in shaping complex problems, particularly the translation of molecular information and discovery into products and processes. Our programs are enriched by an emphasis on leadership; fundamental understanding of physical, chemical, and biological processes; engineering design and synthesis skills; and interdisciplinary perspectives on technological, economic, and social issues."
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