Biological Engineering Division

The Biological Engineering Division (BE) continues to grow in terms of top-quality faculty and student numbers, innovative educational programs, and forefront research programs in pursuing its mission of fostering MIT education and research fusing engineering with biology. Our formal mission statement is "To organize education and research at the interface of engineering with biology, with special emphasis on biomedical engineering, pharmacology, and toxicology," and our aim is to define and lead the new biology-based engineering discipline that we term biological engineering. The central premise of BE is that the science of biology will be as important to technology and society in the next century as physics and chemistry have been in the previous one. Therefore, to translate the revolution in modern biology into a corresponding revolution in biology-based technologies, a new biology-based discipline of bioengineering must be established. We are endeavoring to educate engineers and scientists who can apply their measurement and modeling perspectives to understanding how biological systems operate, especially when perturbed by genetic, chemical, mechanical, or materials interventions, or subjected to pathogens or toxins; and apply their design perspective to creating innovative biology-based technologies in medical diagnostic, therapeutic, and device industries, as well as in nonhealth-related industrial sectors such as agriculture, the environment, materials, manufacturing, and defense. This should lead to a new generation capable of solving problems using modern biotechnology, emphasizing an ability to measure, model, and rationally manipulate biological systems.

The current BE faculty members (with other MIT academic unit affiliations noted in parentheses) are: Angela Belcher (Materials Science and Engineering), Peter Dedon, William Deen (Chemical Engineering), Forbes Dewey (Mechanical Engineering), Bevin Engelward, John Essigmann (Chemistry), James Fox, Linda Griffith (Chemical Engineering), Alan Grodzinsky (Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and Mechanical Engineering), Jongyoon Han (Electrical Engineering and Computer Science), Neville Hogan (Mechanical Engineering and Brain and Cognitive Science), Ian Hunter (Mechanical Engineering), Darrell Irvine (Materials Science and Engineering), Roger Kamm (Mechanical Engineering), Alex Klibanov (Chemistry), Mathew Lang (Mechanical Engineering), Robert Langer (Chemical Engineering), Douglas Lauffenburger (Chemical Engineering and Biology), Harvey Lodish (Biology), Scott Manalis (Media Arts and Sciences), Paul Matsudaira (Biology), Leona Samson, Ram Sasisekharan, David Schauer, James Sherley, Peter So (Mechanical Engineering), Steven Tannenbaum (Chemistry), William Thilly, Bruce Tidor (Electrical Engineering and Computer Science), Forest White, Dane Wittrup (Chemical Engineering), Gerald Wogan, and Ioannis Yannas (Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science and Engineering). As of June 2003, Douglas Lauffenburger became director of BE and Peter Dedon became associate director. Rolanda Dudley-Cowans continues to serve as our administrative officer and Dalia Gabour as our academic administrator.

During fiscal year 2003, the sponsored research volume officially administered within BE was $8.8 million, representing a 28 percent increase over FY2002. It is important to note that this figure represents only those sponsored projects formally assigned to the division, which are only a minor portion of the research funding garnered by BE faculty. Most BE faculty members additionally operate substantial sponsored research projects supervised administratively within other departments and centers. These include the Biotechnology Process Engineering Center, the Center for Biomedical Engineering, the Center for Environmental Health Sciences, and the Division of Comparative Medicine, all of which are directed by BE faculty members (Linda Griffith, Alan Grodzinsky, Leona Samson, and James Fox, respectively). The major research areas within BE include biological and physiological transport phenomena; biological imaging and functional measurement; biomaterials; biomolecular engineering and cell and tissue engineering; computational biology and bioinformatics; discovery, design, and delivery of molecular therapeutics; genetic toxicology; macromolecular biochemistry and biophysics; metabolism of drugs and toxins; microbial pathogenesis; carcinogenesis; biomechanics; molecular epidemiology and dosimetry; molecular pharmacology; and genomics, proteomics, and glycomics. A special highlight of this past year was the 2nd annual BE Division Retreat. More than 150 faculty, graduate students, and staff gathered at a conference center in Newport, RI, for a tremendously stimulating and enjoyable two days of research, education, and ethics discussions and social interactions away from campus.

Undergraduate Education

BE continues to administer two SB Minor programs: Biomedical Engineering (BME) and Toxicology and Environmental Health (Tox/EH). In addition, it administers a five-year Master of Engineering (MEng) program in Biomedical Engineering (Bioengineering track). In June 2003, we had 67 graduates with the BME Minor, 9 graduates with the Tox/EH Minor, and 2 graduates with the BME/BE MEng. Unusually for School of Engineering programs, the aggregate population of these graduates represents women in the majority.

One important new undergraduate subject was introduced this past academic year, under the direction of Professor Paul Matsudaira: BE.010 Introduction to Bioengineering. This subject is aimed at showing MIT freshman how engineering and biology can be combined for advances in basic science and technology applications across all the School of Engineering departments. Another significant new subject introduced this past academic year, under the direction of Professor Linda Griffith and Kimberley Hamad-Schifferli, was BE.011 Statistical Mechanics of Biological Systems, which provides a crucial foundation in aspects of thermodynamics required for quantitative analysis in modern biology and biotechnology.

Graduate Education

BE has operated two PhD programs—Bioengineering and Molecular and Systems Toxicology—along with SM programs in the same two fields. The Toxicology program graduated one PhD and two SM students this past year, and the current enrollment is 29. The Bioengineering program was established only four years ago and has graduated its first cohort of 4 PhD and 2 SM students this year; the current enrollment is 47. Like the BE Division undergraduate programs, our graduate student population represents women and men in roughly equal numbers. The graduate program is now being further integrated so that a single PhD in Biological Engineering will be offered, with tracks in Bioengineering and in Applied Bioscience.

BE has been the deeply appreciative recipient of wonderfully generous gifts for graduate student fellowships, most notably from Andrew and Edna Viterbi for Viterbi Graduate Fellowships in Computational Biology and Bioinformatics, Gordon and Adele Binder for Binder Graduate Fellowships in Molecular and Cell Bioengineering, and Susan Whitehead for Whitehead Graduate Fellowships in Biological Engineering. Additionally, we have received financial support for graduate fellowships from the Medtronic Foundation, the DuPont/MIT Alliance, the Merck/MIT Partnership, and the Whitaker Foundation.

Additionally, BE is grateful for other generous gifts toward important aspects of our ongoing program growth. These include a gift from the Grochow family for support of women faculty and students and a gift from Cliff Reid to help catalyze key division initiatives.

Douglas A. Lauffenburger
Professor of Biological Engineering, Chemical Engineering, and Biology

More information about the Biological Engineering Division can be found on the web at


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