Merger combines bioengineering, chemical engineering departments

New research opportunities will be available for graduate students.

MU’s College of Engineering has announced the merging of the Chemical Engineering Department with the Bioengineering Department, which is part of the College of Agriculture, Food, and Natural Resources to form the Biomedical, Biological and Chemical Engineering Department. The new department will be shared by both colleges.

The merging will begin this academic year, and is designed to provide new opportunities for engineering students. The department will be headed by former Bioengineering Department Chair Jinglu Tan and former Chemical Engineering Department Interim Chair Patrick Pinhero, who share more than a combined 30 years of experience in their fields at MU.

“The primary goals [of the merger] were to maximize the efficiency of how we deliver curriculum,” Pinhero said. “We also want to create natural collaborations between the two departments as far as research and opportunities.”

According to the College of Engineering, interest in the bioengineering and chemical engineering fields have lessened in the last few years; the intention of the new department is to combine the strengths of the College of Engineering and CAFNR for greater leverage.

Pinhero said the merger will provide new research opportunities for graduate students and allow both departments to unify their expertise in the area of sustainability. The department will focus on sustainability research in energy, water and food.

“We’d like to see significant positive impact on our teaching and research programs,” Tan said. “In terms of teaching, we will explore synergies, efficiency, cross-listed courses, and it will allow us to arrange teaching in a collaborative manner, to benefit the students. We already have a number of courses that are cross-listed between bio and chem engineering, and this will allow us to boost that.”

These cross-listed courses include calculus II and III, college chemistry and university physics. By combining the departments, students’ focus will become more interdisciplinary and they will have a wider skill set.

“The world is different now,” Tan said. “When I was trained, I was trained on a certain set of engineering skills. Now I think that new engineers need to know a lot more, we need a lot more knowledge. A lot of innovations occur, and are introduced through collaboration between disciplines, and that’s what the industry looks for, they don’t just want your traditional engineers who can’t work with engineers from other backgrounds.”

While the merge does combine the two departments, students who have already taken courses in the separate departments have no reason to be alarmed. Degree programs will remain the same, with the addition of Biomedical Engineering.

“The merger should be largely invisible to students,” Tan said. “This is more of a administrative change, not one to degree programs. It’s really a regrouping.”

Tan said the integration should provide benefits to the programs without any negative impacts.

“There are no issues [with students who took courses prior to the merge], because the courses are in the degree programs, regardless of what department a program is housed in,” he said.

Now, MU will join a growing list of universities who house combined chemical and biological engineering programs, including Princeton University, the University of Colorado-Boulder, the University of Alabama, Northwestern University and Tufts University.

“We are one of very few universities that have maintained an independent chemical engineering department,” Pinhero said. “[With the merger] we are still reasonably unique; there are only a few institutions out there who have chemical and biological where biological is more bioprocess engineering.”

Pinhero said MU is one of a handful of institutions that is still approaching it from that perspective.

“Most are uniting chemical and something more from the medical side, but in this merger we haven’t abandoned that either,” he said. “We have this blossoming undergraduate biomedical program, which will grow into both a undergraduate and graduate program.” MU had success with a similar departmental merge in 2017, when it created the Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Department by combining the Electrical Engineering Department and the Computer Science Department.

The merging of the Chemical Engineering department with CAFNR's Bioengineering Department has been in the works for several years, but was made official this August.

These combined programs have become more common as engineering jobs, and what’s required of engineers evolves to meet the needs of the population.

“Engineers respond to problems,” Pinhero said. “That’s at the heart of what an engineer is, as opposed to a scientist.”

Pinhero said scientists often approach problems to find applications for their theories and their data. On the other hand, engineers often try to solve problems within those applications.

“Engineering is always changing; as industry changes, as our commerce changes, engineering is going to continue to solve different problems,” Pinhero said. “Engineering is dynamic.”

Edited by Morgan Smith |

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