IT’S ENGINEERING, BUT NOT AS WE KNOW IT

Biology will become as important a subject for engineers as chemistry and physics are now, claims a prominent scientist. Professor Robert Nerem, director of the Georgia Institute of Technology’s Parker H Petit Institute for bioengineering and bioscience believes that by 2020, 25- 30% of industry could be biologically-based. Engineers had a key role to play […]

Biology will become as important a subject for engineers as chemistry and physics are now, claims a prominent scientist.

Professor Robert Nerem, director of the Georgia Institute of Technology’s Parker H Petit Institute for bioengineering and bioscience believes that by 2020, 25- 30% of industry could be biologically-based.

Engineers had a key role to play in realising the potential health care benefits from advances in bioengineering. `It’s up to engineers to learn the biology,’ Nerem told the Institution of Mechanical Engineers’ 150th anniversary symposium Visions of Tomorrow this week. `If we respond to the challenge the rewards will be immense,’ he said.

Biology, he said, was `too important to be left to the biologists’. Whereas engineers now saw chemistry and physics as the leading disciplines, `biology will take an equal place’.

A revolution in bioengineering has been brought about following the biological revolution of being able to grow cells in the laboratory, which has led to a better understanding of cell structures and behaviour.

Nerem said this was opening up a number of fields for research: the marriage of medical and cell biology to nanotechnology, applying engineering principles at the scale of single cells; development of computational models of how biological systems work; and tissue engineering, the joining of biotechnology with the traditional medical industry. A type of artificial skin is expected on the market later this year.