Biology across the curriculum: Preparing students for a career in the life sciences

Claire Komives, Michael J. Prince, Theresa A. Good, Laurent Simon, John P. O'Connell, Jeffrey John Chalmers, Erik Fernandez

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Addition of biological applications into the chemical engineering undergraduate curriculum is becoming more common now, in a response to the pervasive use of biology in more and more aspects of modern technology. Likewise, as recommended in the National Academy of Engineering's, "Educating the Engineer of 2020", "Engineering schools should introduce interdisciplinary learning in the undergraduate environment, rather than having it as an exclusive feature of the graduate programs." Thus, including biological problems in undergraduate courses serves two purposes, namely, to teach students to apply their fundamental engineering principles to new and different fields and also to help prepare more students for eventual careers in the life sciences. The Bioengineering Educational Materials Bank (BioEMB) has been in operation since early in 2007 with problems for the Material and Energy Balance Course. With continuing funding, five additional core courses have been added: Kinetics and Reactor Design; Process Dynamics and Control; Heat and Mass Transfer; Fluid Dynamics; and Thermodynamics. Workshops were held for faculty to learn basic principles of biology and how engineering principles are applied inmany different aspects of modern biotechnology, rom kinetics of biological reactions to fluid transfer and process dynamics problems in whole organisms. Problems are organized by textbook sections relevant for each course. There are over 300 problems posted on the website and the solutions to the problems are available only to registered faculty. The problems have been created by chemical engineering faculty with research and teaching expertise in the subject areas of the problems. To date the website has had over 1200 registrations by students and faculty, including faculty from chemical engineering departments from around the world. Beta testing is in progress for the newly posted course materials. To date, the data has been analyzed only for the material and energy balance course problems. For that study, 199 students from six universities were tested with a set of simple bio and non-bio concept questions, in addition to questions about familiarity with the material. Data showed that students from classes that included the BioEMB problems were able to perform better on the bio-based problems than students whose teachers did not include the BioEMB problems in their course. Additionally, the performance on the non-bio questions did not show statistical differences in performance across the intervention and comparison sites. It can thus be inferred that inclusion of the additional BioEMB problems did not distract the students from learning the fundamental chemical engineering principles.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalASEE Annual Conference and Exposition, Conference Proceedings
StatePublished - 2011

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Engineering


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