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Concerns about "Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering" vs. Bioengineering ?

ElrodElrod Registered User Posts: 123 Junior Member
edited April 2009 in Engineering Majors
I see that several university call their ChemE departments "Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering" now. I believe this is because of the increased focus in Bio in the past decade. Then I see many of these same institutions also have another department called "Bioengineering" which seems to deal mostly with new developments geared toward the health care arena.

I am an undergraduate planning to study ChemE with perhaps a focus more on alternative energy development(s) like solar, fuel cells, newer battery, and similar technologies. Also combined with maybe some basic tradition process control applications as well.

I am a bit concerned that there could be so much focus on bioengineering that it could overshadow other areas that I have more interest in. (They way I see it, if I had so much interest in health care that I wanted to study how to build new tissues or bone structures I would instead try and become an MD and get at the top of the health care food chain - i.e bigger $$$.)

How do you avoid getting too much into the bioengineering side if you want to study ChemE when so many of the professors seem to teach in both departments. I am seeing lots of examples of professors in the ChemE departments doing majority of their research work in what I would call bioengineering.

Can someone give some ideas on what to be alert to and watch out for so that I do not get into a program that is going to steer their students more into bioengineering and health care vs. some of the other areas that I mentioned above.

Or, is the ABET programs so defined one doesn't need to worry about this at the undergraduate level ?
Post edited by Elrod on

Replies to: Concerns about "Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering" vs. Bioengineering ?

  • moneymattersmoneymatters Registered User Posts: 19 New Member
    I am a double major in chemE and bioE... lots of APs coming out of high school allowed me to do this, but I may eventually drop the bioE major

    My school changed the chemical engineering department's name to the "chemical and biomolecular engineering department" without really making any substantial changes. I think in a couple years they're going to start requiring an introductory "biology for engineers" class and an upper level biochemistry course. However, the foundations of the program remain the same: stoichiometry (material balances), thermodynamics, transport processes (fluid dynamics, heat and mass transfer, separations, etc.), kinetics, and unit operations . In addition, there should be a strong (but definitely secondary) chemistry sequence including general chemistry, two semesters of organic chemistry with labs, some physical chemistry, and probably a quantitative chem or analytical chem course. These are the hallmarks of any legit chemical engineering department... every school will have slightly different prereqs, CORE program, electives, etc., but if the aforementioned classes aren't there, then it's not really chemical engineering. A school with "biomolecular" in the name should offer upper level electives in biochemical engineering, metabolic engineering, bioenergy, etc. Another feature of a legit chemE program is that it will prepare you to enter the job market with a B.S. and do actual engineering work, with an actual engineer's salary.

    Bioengineering is much harder to define, as there are next to no practicing engineers in industry that call themselves "bioengineers". There are some people that consider themselves or have the title of "biomedical engineers", but not as many as schools would like you to believe. Many of these biomedical engineers have degrees in mechanical engineering or materials science rather than BME. Bioengineering is generally a bad choice... most programs are a random gaggle***** of watered down thermo and transport mixed with biology courses, physiology, statics and dynamics with a bio twist, materials science, control systems, etc.

    Bioengineering will break your soul. It's nearly as difficult as chem E, but the difference is bioE kids will come out making 45k and chemEs will come out making 65k. I wish this was an exaggeration, but it's not. B.S. bioengineers rarely have employment options beyond being technicians. Most bioengineering kids start or end up as premed... this only increase the competition.

    You're smart for avoiding bioE... I wouldn't worry about a school calling itself "chemical and biomolecular engineering", but do detailed research on each program
  • kgrmomkgrmom Registered User Posts: 81 Junior Member

    I've been lurking around the ChemE and BioE conversations on this board and really need to ask a question or two hopefully someone can help me with. I have a daughter who is a freshman at RPI. She's an undeclared engineering major and she has been leaning toward ChemE for the better part of a year. Chemistry/ Biology are are definitely her strengths. RPI has a huge Biomedical Engineering Research department/ building on campus and the BME major is very popular there. It is not known to be a very easy one either- contrary to what I have read on here.

    They used to have a Chem/Bio Engineering Major but since the new Biomed addition there is ChemE and Biomedical Engineering and she could minor in Biology or Chemistry. She's been trying to decide between the two. I feel uncomfortable with the Biomedical Engineering major - as many times as someone keeps explaining it to me- it keeps coming back to sounding like it is more for someone who is planning to continue on to medical school or maybe go into medical research (right now she is not). Am I missing something?

    Also- why is there such a huge descrepancy on the feelings on biomed on this board? Some seem to think it's an easy field others say it's difficult. I've read one end of the spectrum to the other. Do the program vary that much from one school to the next as opposed to a more traditional type of engineering program like ChemE?

    Bottom line- Is my D making a mistake with Biomed Engineering? Any difference with a Chemistry minor?

    That's more than one question- sorry. Can anyone help?
  • G.P.BurdellG.P.Burdell User Awaiting Email Confirmation Posts: 2,294 Senior Member
    Also- why is there such a huge descrepancy on the feelings on biomed on this board? Some seem to think it's an easy field others say it's difficult. I've read one end of the spectrum to the other. Do the program vary that much from one school to the next as opposed to a more traditional type of engineering program like ChemE?

    ChE is an established field with about 100 years of experience in education. The faculties of different schools are pretty well integrated, which creates stability among programs.

    Biomedical programs, on the other hand, attract faculty with all different backgrounds from all different schools. In addition, there's not that track record of education. As a result, there's a much greater level of variability. In about 10 - 20 years, the Biomedical programs around the country will reach an equilibrium.
  • subSquallsubSquall Registered User Posts: 8 New Member
    Keep in mind that a lot of the names of departments are fluff. They'll teach you some bioeng but they'll be really pre-occupied teaching you the basics of chem eng. You wouldn't get to the advanced stuff in bioengineering until graduate school anyways.
  • newnamenewname Registered User Posts: 17 New Member
    chemical and biomolecular engineering programs typically teach chemical engineering to undergraduates. Many of the professor will have bioengineering related research but the core curriculum remains unchanged from tradition chemical engineering. I know this is true at my university. The reason for the name change tends to be to attract professors and represent the tendency of most chemical engineering departments to apply chemical engineering to biological systems in research. I would not worry about the semantics.
  • carneliancarnelian Registered User Posts: 327 Member
    Remember there is a difference between Biomolecular engineering and Bioengineering (Biomedical engineering).
  • toronto_guytoronto_guy Registered User Posts: 261 Junior Member
    I need to honestly ask why anyone would want to consider chem eng as a career in the wave of unprecedented chemical plant shutdowns? Can't anyone read the signs? Stay as far away from this program as possible.
  • sumzupsumzup Registered User Posts: 799 Member
    Chem Eng is much more than just designing chemical plants...
  • dsmodsmo Registered User Posts: 1,749 Senior Member
    Much more than chemical plants...oil refineries, any kind of fluids, pharmaceuticals, etc. At the oil refinery I work at ChemE co-ops are making about $31/hour. That would be a pretty good wage even for a graduating engineer...and I'm sure if you work for ExxonMobil you can even get a boost over that.
  • MomPhDMomPhD Registered User Posts: 313 Member
    What is the best undergrad major for someone who wants to do research in genetic engineering for healthcare applications?
  • ele902ele902 Registered User Posts: 274 Junior Member
    Biomedical engineering
  • mregomrego Registered User Posts: 1,038 Senior Member
    moneymatters: For a pure ChemE major, do you think the second semester of Ochem is a necessity and why? Why should it be required/taken? Please explain.
  • steeveesteevee Registered User Posts: 828 Member
    A lot of bioengineering is simply the application of traditional engineering disciplines to biology problems. As for the name changes, the content really haven't changed. It's still chemical engineering.

    I've seen the curricula of a couple of schools with bio in their department names, and I only see a couple of bio-themed courses (basic cell biology/biochemistry are common, with bioprocesses, protein engineering, and metabolic engineering being a bit rare). The bulk of the programs still have thermodynamics, heat/mass transfer, separation processes, process control, etc.
This discussion has been closed.