The University of California, Santa Cruz, has approved a new major in bioengineering, an interdisciplinary program focusing on the applications of engineering to medicine and the biological sciences. The new major, leading to a B.S. degree, prepares students for careers at the interfaces between engineering, medicine, and biology.

The bioengineering program involves faculty in four departments--three in the Baskin School of Engineering (biomolecular engineering, computer engineering, and electrical engineering) and one in the Division of Physical and Biological Sciences (molecular, cell, and developmental biology). The program, which will be administered by the engineering school, will begin admitting students to the new major in spring 2007.

"This program is a collaboration between science and engineering faculty that will serve students with a wide range of interests," said Richard Hughey, professor and chair of computer engineering.

UCSC faculty are engaged in a broad range of bioengineering research projects, providing opportunities for undergraduates to learn from and take part in faculty research. Research areas include biomolecular sensors, nanoelectronic implants, assistive technologies for the elderly and disabled, bioinformatics, molecular design, and environmental monitoring.

The new bioengineering program is distinguished by UCSC's strengths in areas such as bioinformatics, molecular biology, and bioelectronics, and it also has an important bioethics component, said Phillip Berman, professor and chair of biomolecular engineering.

"We are developing a program for the genome era, building on the latest developments in biotechnology to meet the needs of the future," Berman said.

Graduates of the program will be prepared to work as engineers solving problems in the biomedical and biomolecular domains and to pursue advanced degrees in engineering, medicine, or science. Bioengineering provides students with fundamental knowledge of mathematics, science, and technology, and advanced training in engineering principles and practice at the molecular, cellular, and organismal levels.

The bioengineering major is challenging because of the large number of courses required to provide a multidisciplinary foundation in engineering, mathematics, and science, Hughey said. To make sure beginning students can quickly engage in the discipline, the program includes several entry-level courses without prerequisites. These include courses in bioethics, clinical health care, and universal access and assistive technologies (see related press release).