About

Analysis & Synthesis

MIT Biological Engineering Department Illustrative Graphic

We define biological engineering as an analogous sibling to the main, well-established engineering disciplines in being recognizably focused on creating new technologies for a spectrum of application fields based on an identifiable basic science foundation — all using the two “wings” of engineering:” ‘analysis’ and ‘synthesis.’ For all engineering disciplines, analysis represents work to understand the basic science adequately for ascertaining design principles, so that the results of synthesis work can be as predictive as feasible. For mechanical engineering and electrical engineering different branches of physics form the respective foundations, for chemical engineering and materials engineering different branches of chemistry do likewise. For biological engineering, our basic science foundation is molecular life sciences in its most quantitative and ‘omics form.

Revolutions in Bioscience
Biological engineering builds on two major revolutions in bioscience in the late 20th century: molecular biology and genomic biology. These two revolutions made it possible to identify and manipulate the mechanistic components of living systems and to accelerate the rate of analysis. Molecular and cellular components, properties and mechanisms can now be addressed in terms of quantitative measurement, integrative modeling and systematic manipulation, enabling the powerful engineering paradigm of “measure, model, manipulate, and make.”

Research and Education
With a goal of developing effective biology-based technologies for application across a broad spectrum of society’s needs, including prominently, but not exclusively, human and environmental health, BE’s students learn within an exciting landscape of research opportunities. Students may pursue both undergraduate and graduate degrees in BE. The department also offers a range of joint degrees and programs with partners such as the Program in Polymers and Soft Matter (PPSM) and the departments of Biology, Electrical Engineering & Computer Science, and Civil & Environmental Engineering. More than one-third of the BE’s faculty hold membership in one or more of the major US academies; it is their visionary guidance that empowers BE’s graduates to become world leaders in the biotechnology industry and academia.

Research areas in which BE faculty are recognized as pioneering leaders include:

The Objectives of the MIT Department of Biological Engineering:

Our department’s mission is to educate leaders and generate new knowledge at the interface of engineering and biology. We are defining and leading the emerging discipline of biological engineering, fusing engineering with modern molecular-to-’omic biology to measure, model, manipulate, and make biological systems for powerful new biological technologies.

We aim to prepare the next generation of scientists and engineers who will advance bioscience and biotechnology through quantitative, integrative, design-oriented analysis and synthesis of biological mechanisms. We train leaders who value collegiality and societal contribution and who work wisely, creatively, and effectively for the betterment of humankind.

Our department values a diverse and inclusive community, and we are committed to promoting a caring and respectful community in which all members can take full advantage of MIT’s opportunities for learning, discovery, and personal growth.

Since its introduction in 2005, the BE SB degree program has set an international standard for educating undergraduates in the “Measure, Mine, Model, Manipulate, and Make” engineering paradigm applied to biology.  

The BE SB—built on foundation of engineering math, computer science, and physics; organic, biological, and physical chemistry; and molecular cell biology and genetics—includes core subjects in multi-scale analysis of biological processes (from both mechanistic and “big data” perspectives), methods for measurement from molecular to tissue scales, and integration of biological, chemical, and physical processes such as convection, diffusion and reaction in microfluidic devices.  Students complement core studies with a capstone design course and 3 advanced technical subjects in concentration areas ranging from ‘Computational & Systems Biology’ to ‘Synthetic Biology & Biological Circuit Design’.  Many students participate in the iGEM (international Genetic Engineered Machines) competition, which has its origins in one of the required BE SB laboratory subjects. The entire curriculum is strongly infused with communication and leadership skills.