Assembly and Creativity
An Interview with Three Founders of Caltech's Newest Option
Nature hath no goal though she hath law—or so observed the seventeenth-century poet John Donne. While we can only speculate about the former, we are certain about the latter, and researchers in the new Caltech interdisciplinary Option of Bioengineering aim to analyze, understand, and adopt the laws governing Nature's handiwork for the extreme benefit of multiple areas of science and engineering. Centered in the Division of Engineering and Applied Science, the graduate Bioengineering Option will be a full collaboration with the Division of Biology and the Division of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering.
At a variety of levels of order—from the molecular to the cellular to the organismal—biology is becoming more accessible to approaches that are commonly used in engineering, such as mathematical modeling, systems theory, computation, and abstract approaches to synthesis. Conversely, the accelerating pace of discovery in biological sciences is suggesting new design principles that may have important practical applications in man-made system design. Thus, the research synergism created at the interface of the enhanced understanding of complex biological systems and the design and synthesis of complex biological systems offers unprecedented opportunities to meet challenges in both biology and engineering.
The educational mission of the Option is to create a new generation of bioengineers superbly trained in both engineering and biological science, ready to realize the possibilities of reverse engineering of biological systems and produce biological structures from man-made materials. The faculty and students are drawn from diverse disciplines such as biology, computational and neural systems, mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, computer science, aeronautics, chemistry, and chemical engineering.
Some of the questions driving the research of this approach-integrating group include how can we engineer robust and controllable components (at levels of molecules, gene networks, and organelles) that can be inserted into organisms for clinical and research use; how can emerging engineering technologies, such as robotics, MEMS, and nano-scale systems technology, be used to improve our ability to carry out biological research, as well as enhance medical clinical practice; and how can biological discoveries be used to guide the development of new engineering components and systems?
Caltech has the distinct opportunity to redefine traditional "bioengineering," which typically concentrates on biomechanics, to include new areas of molecular biophysics and neurobiology, both of which are ripe for the application of engineering tools to analyze and synthesize biologically based and inspired systems. To learn more about the new Option, ENGenious interviewed Mory Gharib, Professor of Aeronautics and Bioengineering, Steven Quake, Associate Professor of Applied Physics, and Paul Sternberg, Professor of Biology. Go to Interview