Biological Engineering

Biological engineering is an interdisciplinary area focusing on the application of engineering principles to analyze biological systems and to solve problems in the interfacing of such systems—plant, animal or microbial—with human-designed machines, structures, processes and instrumentation. The biological revolution continues to mature and impact all of us. Human-based gene manipulation affects nearly all North American food supplies. Plants and animals are already being defined on a molecular basis. Living organisms can now be analyzed, measured and "engineered" as never before. Designer "bugs" are being produced to enhance biological processes. These changes continue to redefine our research and graduate programs that continue to emphasize biological, environmental and food and fiber engineering. Our connections to agriculture and food systems remain, but modern agriculture is greatly influenced by biotechnology, and our connections to agriculture reflect this fact. A basic goal is to design technology that operates in harmony with the biology of living systems. In many cases, currently available knowledge is inadequate to support engineering design of food and biological processes. Hence, greater fundamental knowledge of biology and its potential applications are also of concern to the biological engineer.

Our research areas

Molecular Bioengineering

Biosensors, bioassays and microfluidic lab-on-a-chip systems will be developed for the detection of pathogenic organisms, toxins, and clinically relevant markers. Applications of the sensors will be toward clinical diagnostics, food safety, environmental protection or biosecurity.

Nucleic Acid Engineering

Work with engineering DNA into a nanomaterial for real world applications including drug (DNA/siRNA/cell) delivery, molecular sensing, cell-free protein production, protein engineering and nanoparticle-based photonic/optoelectronic/photovoltaic devices.

Physiological Engineering

Experiment with measurement and modeling of physiological functions in animals and plants. A broad range of projects are possible and can involve physiological functions at the cellular level as well as larger more complex systems.

Microbial Fuel Cells

Microbial fuel cells use bacterial cells for the generation of bioelectricity from waste products. Projects within this area include gene expression studies using Bioconductor in the R- project language, development of a portable potentiostat to study bacterial interactions in situ, studying bacterial interactions, and development of a microfluidic bioreactor.

Bioenergetics and Stress Factors

Bioenergetics involves development of mechanistic models to predict energy budget of endotherms for virtually any thermal conditions. Stress factors in livestock involves time series analyses of thermal data (temperature, relative humidity, wind speed and solar radiation), physiological responses data (internal body temperature, respiration rate, sweating rate, etc) and physical and optical properties of hair coat (fur layer) in defining stress and stress levels of livestock in hot and dry, and hot and humid environments.

Energy Systems Engineering

A systematic approach to future energy needs. Projects within this area include: Developing and validating system models of material, energy and monetary flows for cellulosic and corn ethanol and application of models to assess system energetics, economics, and carbon balance; Developing frameworks for integration of uncertain wind resources into existing electric power grids through the use of optimization in conjunction with simulations on a simplified power system.

Controlled-Environment Agriculture

Developing energy-efficient technologies to support year-round, local, vegetable production and production of high value chemicals such as pharmaceuticals from plants in closed environments.

Soil and Water Engineering

Developing, testing, and designing water quality protection strategies and novel approaches to monitoring hydrological systems. Additional focus on sustainable water development throughout the world.

Additional research areas

  • Biomechanics
  • Food Process Engineering
  • Metabolic Engineering
  • Micro-bioreactors
  • International Applications