Friday, May 6, 2016


What is engineering? I feel as though engineering can mean so many things depending on the context. There's electrical engineering, civil engineering, agricultural engineering, even food engineering.

I am a mechanical engineer in a biological engineering class.

To me, engineering is design and fabrication of electromechanical systems. This can be anything from a simple box to a bridge to an iPhone. Originally, when I thought about biological engineering, I thought of mechanical engineering in a biology context (i.e. medical devices, prosthetics, implants). However, that is not what biological engineering is.

From Mod 1, I would think that biological engineering is genetic modification. The whole module was focused around the idea that making single point mutations could completely alter the function of a protein. However, this seemed much more like biology than engineering.

Mod 2 had much more of a systems feel. This made me think that biological engineering is the creation of assays to determine the effect of conditions on biological systems. This seemed even more like biology than Mod 1.

When we got to Mod 3, I finally felt like I was doing real engineering. The viruses were "designed" in a way that they became components of an electrochemical system. Even though they were preexisting biological phenomena, they were molded into what we wanted them to be, just like plastic can be thermoformed to a mold. There was even actual fabrication involved when we created the battery. And of course no electromechanical system is complete without an LED.

Overall, I guess I would describe biological engineering as the broad field of using preexisting biology to do things that you want it to do, whether that be creating sensors, assays, or batteries. It can involve purposefully changing biology, using it how it is, or screening biology that changes on its own. Most importantly, biological engineering involves utilizing systems that work with little energy input (relative to that required for actuators and computers) to do very complex things.

Of course it wouldn't be biology without insane amount of pipetting.

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