Undergraduate Program in Biomedical Engineering

New degree program at the intersection of the engineering school and the life sciences

In the Fall 2010 semester, Harvard College launched a new concentration at the intersection of the engineering school and the life sciences cluster, Biomedical Engineering.

See: Planning & Courses

See: How to Declare

About the Biomedical Engineering Concentration

The mission for this new concentration can be summarized as follows:

In recognition of the pivotal importance of the life sciences and the technologies they inspire to our society, Harvard is committed to broadly educating engineers who will become leaders in the developing field of Biomedical Engineering. The objectives of this concentration include providing students a solid foundation in engineering, particularly as applied to the life sciences, within the setting of a liberal arts education.

The concentration is flexibly structured for a diversity of educational and professional objectives. It enables the acquisition of a broad range of skills and attitudes drawn from the humanities, social sciences and sciences, in addition to engineering, which enhance engineering knowledge and which will contribute to future leadership and technical success.

Biomedical engineering lies at the intersection of the physical and life sciences, incorporating principles from physics and chemistry to understand the operation of living systems.

As in other engineering fields, the approach is highly quantitative: mathematical analysis and modeling are used to capture the function of systems from subcellular to organism scales.

An education in Biomedical Engineering, enables students to translate abstract hypothesis and scientific knowledge into working systems (e.g., prosthetic devices, imaging systems, and biopharmaceuticals).

This enables one to both test the understanding of basic principles and to further this knowledge, and it places this understanding in the broader context of societal needs.

This new concentration complements the scientific goals of knowledge discovery embodied in the other life science concentrations.

What is the difference between the S.B. in Engineering Sciences on the Bioengineering track, the A.B. in Engineering Sciences on the Bioengineering track, and the A.B. in Biomedical Engineering?

The Engineering Sciences A.B. Bioengineering track contains more upper-division engineering requirements, to provide students with further study in the fundamentals of engineering.

The Biomedical Engineering (BME) concentration sacrifices some upper division engineering requirements in favor of a more basic grounding in life sciences and chemistry.

For example, the ES bioengineering A.B. requires students to take CS50, but does not require LS1B or Chem17 (Organic Chemistry). The approved electives are also different, with the ES degree mostly accepting engineering courses, while the BME concentration accepts some classes from other departments (like MCB52 or OEB 53).

The aims of the two concentrations are similar, but the BME concentration prepares people better for doing research in a wet lab or attending medical school, and gives students a better understanding of the life sciences. The ES Bioengineering track is a more traditional engineering degree with 3-4 biology related classes to supplement.  An AB degree, particularly in BME, is a good choice for students whose goal is to attend medical school and become a practicing physician.

The difference between the A.B. and S.B. degrees is 4 half courses, which are mostly upper division engineering courses in electronics, mechanics, and applied math. The requirement of an undergraduate thesis for the SB degree is also a major difference.  Importantly, the S.B. degree is an ABET-accredited degree in engineering.

ABET is a national accreditation board that accredits post-secondary education programs in applied science, computing, engineering, and technology.  An ABET-accredited degree will enable students to seek a Professional Engineering (PE) license.  Therefore, the SB degree is a good choice for students whose goal is to work as a practicing engineer.

Requirements for the BME Concentration

Basic Requirements: 14 half-courses

  • Required courses:

    a. Mathematics: Applied Mathematics 21a and 21b; Mathematics 21a and 21b; or Mathematics 23a and 23b.

    b. Physics: PS12a or Physics 15a or AP50a and PS12b or Physics 15b or AP50b, 15a and 15b, or 16 and 15b.

    c. Statistics: Applied Math 101 or Statistics 115.

    d. Organic Chemistry: Chemistry 17 or 20.

    e. Cell biology and genetics: Life and Physical Sciences A1 or Life Sciences 1a, and Life Sciences 1b.

    f. Engineering Sciences (five courses): ES53, BE110 (formerly ES145), ES123, one of the following: ES181, ES 164 or MCB 199, one of the following: ES 91r, ES122, ES130, ES221, or ES228.

    g. Approved Elective (one half course): Biophysics 101 or 170, Chem 27, 30 or 160, CS 50, ES 120, 149 or 190, MCB 52 or 54, or OEB 53.

  • Sophomore Forum: Sophomore year. Non-credit. Spring term.

    a.  The Sophomore Forum aids in forming a community among engineering students, to start a conversation between students and engineering professionals, and to answer questions about courses. It will meet each Wednesday from 12:00-1:00 (lunch will be provided), and each meeting will be hosted by a member of SEAS.  Activities include faculty talks, industry talks, lab tours or group activities. 

  • Thesis : required for recommendations of high honors and highest honors. Thesis candidates must enroll in one or two terms of ES91r.
  • General Examination: None.
  • Other information:

    a.  By prior approval, other advanced undergraduate or graduate courses, as well as courses at MIT, can be used to satisfy general requirements and specialization requirements and electives. Electives alternative to those listed in the specializations may be counted for credit upon prior petition and approval.

    b. Honors in the field are decided by vote of the Committee on Undergraduate Studies, taking into account the student’s course selection and achievement. Honors is awarded to student with 3.2 GPA in the program. High Honors is awarded to students who obtain a 3.5 GPA and have excellent independent work or thesis. Highest Honors is for students with a 3.7 GPA and an outstanding thesis or independent work.

    c. Pass/Fail: None of the courses used to satisfy concentration requirements may be taken Pass/Fail.

    d. Plan of Study: Concentrators are required to file an approved departmental Plan of Study and to keep their plan up to date in subsequent years. Plan of Study forms may be obtained from the Academic Office (Pierce 110) or from the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) website.

    e. In addition, students are strongly urged to consider taking ES 1, in order to obtain a broad overview of engineering as a field.

    f. Independent project: Students are required to have a substantial research experience in order to deepen their understanding of at least one aspect of the Biomedical Engineering field, and to develop hands-on experience in the scientific method and/or technology development. This typically would be fulfilled through a summer project resulting in a significant written report; alternatively, ES91r, or ES100hf may be used to fulfill this requirement. Students interested in a Thesis must enroll in ES91r. One semester of ES91r may be used to fulfill the requirement for an approved elective

    1Students who take Life and Physical Sciences A should consult with the Director of Undergraduate studies to get advice on advanced class selection.

Concentration Guide

Thesis Guide
An overview of the requirement for a thesis in Biomedical Engineering.