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State's first undergraduate degree in biomedical engineering, new building breaks ground in spring

October 18, 2010

Colorado State University is making a growing investment in biomedical engineering -- in the College of Engineering and across campus -- based on growing demand from students and a new report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicting a 72 percent increase in job opportunities for biomedical engineers by 2018.

Team of mechanical engineering students work with Prof. Sue James, department chair.

In the spring, the College of Engineering will begin construction on a new $69 million, 122,000-square-foot building that will house the University’s School of Biomedical Engineering and focus on bioengineering research and programs. The school, based in the College of Engineering, encompasses 50 faculty members from 14 departments in four colleges:

Five-year, dual-degree program

Beginning Fall 2011, the university will offer a new undergraduate degree in biomedical engineering, one of the very few undergraduate biomedical engineering programs offered in the Western United States. In this five-year, dual-degree program, students will graduate with a degree in biomedical engineering as well as a traditional engineering discipline such as electrical engineering, chemical and biological engineering, or mechanical engineering.

As the first bioengineering program in the state, Colorado State’s School of Biomedical Engineering has offered master’s and doctoral degrees since 2007 and coursework for more than 10 years. The school currently has 24 doctoral students, 22 master’s students and 88 undergraduate certificate students enrolled.

Increase student employability

“One cannot underestimate the flexibility of a dual degree,” said Tara M. Ruttley, associate program scientist for the International Space Station, NASA-Johnson Space Center and a member of the Colorado State School of Biomedical Engineering external advisory board. “Offering the dual degree provides the depth of a traditional major with the breadth and specialty in biomedical engineering and allows students to be better prepared for their careers by qualifying for more internships, graduate programs, and job opportunities upon graduation. What student wouldn’t want as many opportunities as possible?”

“We have many students expressing interest in some level of biomedical engineering,” said Sandra Woods, dean of the College of Engineering at Colorado State. “Our industry advisers were instrumental in designing the dual-degree program which will increase their employability. In addition, students in these programs are learning from some of the best faculty in biomedical engineering who collaborate across disciplines and currently have about $41.9 million in research contracts.”

One of fastest emerging areas of scientific discovery

Mechanical engineering students with their portable neonatal incubator.

For example, Professor Stu Tobet, who recently took over the reins as director of the School of Biomedical Engineering, is based in the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Engineering. He is a leading authority on how the brain develops, particularly how cells define a growing and maturing brain.

“Bioengineering is one of the fastest emerging areas of scientific discovery and represents an enormous opportunity for economic growth within Colorado,” Tobet said. “Students will learn a wide variety of practical skills that will contribute to job growth and keeping workers in the state. Our graduates are expected to work in industry, government and academia.”

The graduate program is growing faster than university officials predicted, Tobet added. One of the first graduates holds a post-doctoral degree position at Harvard University. Another is running an orthopedic research laboratory.

Prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of diseases

The multidisciplinary School of Biomedical Engineering trains students in the development of innovative products to improve the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of diseases and also to help improve overall health and patient rehabilitation, said Kevin Lear, who is director of the undergraduate program in the School of Biomedical Engineering and a professor in the department of Electrical and Computer Engineering.

For example, students in this program are learning to:

  • create new orthopedic implants
  • develop new therapies and imaging modalities for fighting cancer
  • improve the design of vital medical equipment such as blood oxygenators used in open heart surgery
  • work on the next generation of gene therapies or engineered tissues and organs

Potentially saving lives, helping people

Joslyne Lovelace, a mechanical engineering major from Pueblo, wants to pursue a biomedical engineering degree because it combines two of her interests.

“I have always wanted to work in the medical field,” Lovelace said. “In my last couple of years of high school, I really looked at engineering and loved the idea of creating devices to better humanity. So I put my two interests together and decided I wanted to go into biomedical engineering. The field of biomedical engineering is a career that could potentially save lives and really help people. I believe it will be a very rewarding profession.”

Current undergraduate research projects

Electrical engineering Prof. Diego Krapf and a student work on a portable method to detect TB.

Undergraduate students are already involved in numerous research projects involving faculty in the School of Biomedical Engineering:

• In May, four graduating Colorado State University seniors filed for a patent on a medically equipped incubator backpack unit they hope will reduce deaths of babies in medical emergencies in the United States and newly industrialized nations. The mechanical engineering students built the device, called a neonatal transport incubator, to help first responders and medical personnel more safely move babies from their homes and/or other sites to medical facilities, whether in the United States or in countries with rough terrain or inadequate road systems.

• In December 2009, engineering researchers at Colorado State University announced they found a new way to detect traces of tuberculosis bacteria in fluids that would allow for a more sensitive and accurate detection of the deadly disease. The research by Diego Krapf, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering and a faculty member in the School of Biomedical Engineering, was recently recognized by the Optical Society of America for its potential use in developing countries that face greater risks of TB and for its prospective use to detect latent cases of TB.

• Ketul Popat, a professor in the university's School of Biomedical Engineering, received a three-year, $300,000 grant in 2008 from the National Science Foundation to study nanomedicine - scaling down the size of drug delivery vehicles so that the drugs can be delivered directly to the target organs with appropriate delivery rates. Popat and his students investigated whether tiny tubes of titanium adhered to the implant can be used to deliver drugs and increase bone growth on the implant surface.

• Tobet also is working collaboratively with electrical engineering Professor Tom Chen and engineering education Professor Michael de Miranda on a $2.7 million National Science Foundation grant to train graduate students on cutting-edge research while also preparing them to share their knowledge with K-12 teachers and industry.


Contact: Emily Wilmsen
E-mail: Emily.Wilmsen@colostate.edu
Phone: (970) 491-2336