If the physical and chemical
laws that govern the biology of living systems are the same as those
that govern inanimate objects,
it logical that the quantitative skills engineers bring to the table can
substantially add to the biological revolution taking place today?
There’s an old saying: “Two heads are better than one.” And,
it’s true. For years while ethicists, theologians, human rights groups,
and the medical and insurance professions have been debating when life starts,
how it should end, or even the quality of life, engineers and physicians
-- often with biologists -- have been quietly working in teams to solve some
of the most pressing physical needs of society. The keyword the media uses
to describe these efforts is bioengineering.
Bioengineering is the generic term that attempts to encompass the newest,
and potentially most far-reaching, technological revolution. In fact, the
National Science Foundation and National Institutes of Health have identified
bioengineering as “an essential underpinning field for the 21st century.” Combining
the traditional strengths of engineers -- analytical and experimental methods,
a knowledge of materials, experience in the design and control of systems,
and expertise in the processing and control of information -- with those
of biologists, who work on the molecular and cellular levels to understand
biological functions and phenomena, the scope of bioengineering is as vast,
and as intricate, as life itself.
For instance, in the field of biomedical engineering, there are already well
established specialty areas, such as: biomechanics, the study of motion and
devices in the body; biomaterials, which includes living tissue as well
as synthetic materials for use in implants; and bioinstrumentation, the development
of electronics and measurement devices for diagnostic and treatment applications.
Another field within bioengineering, bioinformatics employs algorithms and
mathematical methods to model and analyze biological behavior. Often called
computational biology, bioinformatics uses computers to mimic the movements
and “thought patterns” of simple life forms in order to better
understand, interpret, and predict real-life actions and functions. Bioinformatics
also includes imaging systems and devices which aid in medical diagnoses
and treatment plans. Imaging technologies that deal with vision identification
or face recognition are in the field of biometrics.
Engineers and biologists also collaborate in the field of bioremediation,
the use of biological systems to promote environmental stewardship.
Researchers in Notre Dame’s College of Engineering are focusing their
bioengineering efforts in the areas of biomechanics, biomaterials,
bioinformatics, and bioremediation. Their
successes promise to be at the forefront of innovations in medical treatment
plans and surgical procedures, the development of chemical
and optical sensors for medical applications, the creation of a synthetic
blood with a longer shelf life than whole blood, and the invention of new