Emphasis areas/sub-plans

All University of Minnesota Biomedical Engineering majors must choose a specialty emphasis area/sub-plan, which they focus on for the entirety of their senior year.

Students in the BBmE program are strongly encouraged to choose an emphasis area/sub-plan spring of their junior year, so they can take one of their Engineering and Science Electives that semester, as suggested in the BBmE four-year plan.

We currently offer eight emphasis areas/sub-plans in our program.

Bioelectricity and Bioinstrumentation (BEI)

BEI seeks to record, process, image, and control biomedical signals and to develop instrumentation for biological research and medical applications. Specific examples of bioelectricity and instrumentation include:

  • Cardiac pacemakers.
  • Brain-computer interfaces that link the brain to the environment.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging systems.

Biomaterials

Students in the Biomaterials emphasis area/sub-plan are expected to:

  • Become acquainted with the general principles of designing, synthesizing, processing, and characterizing biomaterials.
  • Learn to use biomaterials to solve problems in biology and medicine.

Courses on life science, fundamentals of materials science and engineering, and interactions between materials and living elements are relevant.

Biomechanics

The area of Biomechanics is extremely broad, so it's broken down into two sub-disciplines.

Mechanics of Tissues and Biomaterials

This area emphasizes understanding how biological and biomedical materials deform under load. You'll be preparing yourself to work on:

  • Tissue mechanics problems (e.g., how much does a vessel expand in response to a change in pressure, how much does a heart valve leaflet deflect under a given load, or how much does a tendon stretch given a certain amount of tension).
  • Mechanical aspects of biomaterials selection (e.g., what vascular graft or stent materials would provide a good match to the native tissue?).

Kinematics and Biomechanical Design

This area emphasizes the design of biomechanical devices and how linkage systems behave. You'll be preparing yourself to:

  • Work on the design of mechanical systems for biomedical use (e.g., how one should design a knee brace to be as light as possible but still provide the necessary support).
  • Understand the dynamics of large-scale motions (e.g., what causes the characteristic features of the various gait irregularities and how can they be corrected?).

Biomedical Transport Processes (BTP)

Biomedical Transport Processes (BTP) involves three fundamental processes: Momentum transfer, mass transfer, and heat transfer. They share similar biophysical and mathematical descriptions. Momentum transfer underlies flow fluid, whose applications in BME include:

  • Predicting blood flow in vessels.
  • Flow of samples in "lab on chip" microfluidic systems.
  • Flow of cell culture medium through tissue engineered cartilage in bioreactors.

Mass and heat transfer refer to the ability to deliver molecules and energy, respectively, from a source to a target. Applications of mass and heat transfer include:

  • Predicting blood oxygenation rates in capillaries from oxygen in lung alveoli and in hollow fibers from pure oxygen gas in "heart lung machines."
  • Movement of mRNA generated in the cell nucleus to cytoplasmic ribosomes.

BTP integrates rigorous experimentation as well as mathematical and computational modeling, which are used to formulate and solve the equations that govern momentum, mass, and energy balances.

As suggested by the applications areas, BTP is relevant in almost every physiological/cellular process and almost all medical devices. So this emphasis area/sub-plan is relevant for students interested in pursuing both employment and advanced studies (MD and PhD) upon graduation.

Cell and Molecular Bioengineering (CMBE)

In Cell and Molecular Bioengineering (CMBE), we take advantage of natural biological processes to advance industrial biotechnologies. For example, by harnessing the power of genetic manipulation, we can control cellular production of small molecules, enzymes (catalysts) and other biomolecules that can be used to treat disease and/or develop nanoscale medical devices.

Additionally, one desperate need is to improve approaches to discovering new drugs. So students in this emphasis area/sub-plan will be well positioned to pursue graduate work and ultimately a career in the pharmaceutical industry.

For this emphasis area/sub-plan, we very strongly encourage students to complete the Organic Chemistry sequence (Organic I and II, along with Organic Lab). Students are also strongly encouraged to take Chemical Engineering courses (Reaction Kinetics and Reactor Engineering as well as Biochemical Engineering). Finally, it's critical that students take advanced Lab courses, such as the Molecular Biology and Biotechnology Lab (BIOC 4125).

Cell and Tissue Engineering (CTE)

Cell and Tissue Engineering seeks to control biological function at the cell and tissue level. Specific examples of tissue engineering are:

  • Bioreactors for controlled physical/chemical stimuli.
  • Drug and nutrient transport through tissue.
  • Tissue mechanical properties.  

Specific examples of cell engineering are control of cell migration, division, growth, and death through therapeutic drugs or other molecular agents, such as those released from drug-eluting stents.

Digital Health

The Digital Health emphasis area/sub-plan aims to prepare BME students to manage and analyze big data problems that face the medical industry. As medical health records are becoming digitized it provides the opportunity to use machine learning tools for medical discovery.  

Students will learn how to identifying disease biomarkers and traits that identify patients that are at risk for diseases and assess the best therapies suited to the patient’s needs. Students in this program will take machine learning and data management classes.

Medical Device Design

The medical device emphasis area/sub-plan covers an extreme range from implantable coronary artery stents to refrigerator-sized blood testers. Three main areas that students focus on are:

  • Electronic devices (such as pacemakers, blood testers, etc.).
  • Stimulation and monitoring (nerve stimulators, EKG’s).
  • External medical devices (dialysis machines, blood testers, cardiac assist).

Neural Engineering

Neural Engineering uses engineering principles to understand how the brain works and develops new technology to interact and treat the brain. The curriculum for this emphasis area/sub-plan is designed to teach the basics of neuroanatomy and neurophysiology and the fundamentals of diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, tinnitus, and epilepsy.

Students also develop engineering skills such as signal processing, image processing, instrumentation and computational modeling as well as electrode design, amplifier and filter design, brain machine interfaces, cochlear implants, and deep brain stimulation.