Why the Biomedical Option in Mechanical Engineering?
At UBC, the Biomedical Option in Mechanical Engineering prepares top engineering students with the knowledge and skills necessary for a future in biomedical engineering. With exposure to a range of courses from biofluids to orthopedics, access to highly reputed professors in the field and an opportunity to gain hands on experience at some of the best biomedical facilities in Western Canada, the biomedical option opens doors for those wishing to work in industry, pursue a graduate research degree or even head off to medical school!
What are some of the unique opportunities that students at UBC have?
We have a close relationship with the UBC Hospital which affords our engineering students first-hand exposure to the medical field. For example, students in the Orthopaedic Biomechanics course get to observe Total Joint Replacement surgeries to better understand the need for, and process of, joint replacement.
As another example, a group of biomedical engineering students have examined the impact of exercise squats (both full squats and 90o squats) on the knee. Specifically, using their group member, who is also a pre-Olympian swimmer, as a subject, the group used an open MRI scanner to determine the geometry of the lower body in the saggital plane, in both squat positions. Then, using the facilities at one of the only two Gait/Motion Analysis labs in Western Canada, the group obtained data on the average magnitude and direction of the force through the patella. Finally, using static and dynamic mechanical analysis, and information on the geometry and forces, they determined the primary interstitial loads to determine whether the forces and stresses on the various joints exceed the allowable magnitudes, and thus whether either of the squats poses risk to the knee.
Biomedical Engineering in Mech vs. ECE
At UBC, the Biomedical Option is offered within both Mechanical Engineering and Electrical Engineering (ECE). While both options offer you a concentration in Biomedical engineering without eroding the strong Mechanical or Electrical engineering foundation, they differ in terms of their scope and focus on biomedical applications. Both options include material that enables students to develop an understanding of human anatomy and physiology, which the students use in their other courses and design projects. Students are also exposed to courses that introduce them to the regulation of medical devices in Canada, ethics, and working in multi-disciplinary environments.
In Mechanical Engineering, biomedical students learn how the principles of solid mechanics, fluid dynamics, dynamics and kinematics and mechanical design are applied in the design of implantable and external biomedical devices and in the study of biological tissues. As an example, students study how orthopedic implants such as total joints replacements or bone fracture fixation pins are designed and how they are attached to and incorporated into the human skeleton.
In the fluid realm Mechanical Engineers study the function of the heart and circulatory system, the joints and joint lubrication and the lungs and respiration.
Safety devices such as helmets, seat belts, ski bindings and airbags are also devices that are primarily mechanical in operation and that can be studied in the Mechanical Engineering Biomedical Option courses.
The Biomedical Option in Mechanical Engineering replaces three courses from the general third and fourth year curricula with four core courses that have a biomedical engineering focus. Students also focus on biomedical applications in their third year term project and fourth year capstone project.
Furthermore, in choosing from a wide range of biomedical courses for two out of their three technical electives, students have the opportunity to explore specific areas of biomedical interest.
Electrical Engineering Biomedical Students focus largely on the study of electrical and electronic devices and circuits, electromagnets and microcomputers as they are used in medical physiological monitoring devices (ECG, EEG, respirators, blood pressure), electrode designs, and signal analysis.
Students also learn about the design, optimization and use of medical imaging devices such as ultrasound, x-ray, computed tomography (CAT scan) and Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) machines.
Electrical engineers are also central in the design and certification of implantable electronic and electrical devices such as pacemakers, external prosthetic devices such as powered hand, arm and lower leg devices, and micro-electro-mechanical (MEMS) devices such as for bio-sensing and bio-nanotechnology.
The Electrical Engineering Biomedical Option deletes three courses and three electives from the Electrical engineering degree, and adds six new courses in biomedical engineering. The third and fourth year design project courses also add a focus on biomedical engineering.
Electrical option students have no particular biomedical engineering requirement associated with their remaining technical electives.
Detailed information on curriculum, including course lists for students in the Biomedical Option, can be found here.
Opportunities in Biomedical Engineering
Whether you want to work in industry, go on to graduate school in biomedical engineering, or head off to medical school, the Mechanical Engineering Biomedical Option can open doors for you. The United States Department of Labor projects a 27% growth in the Biomedical Engineering Field from 2012 to 2022.
Biomedical engineers can work in a variety of settings, from hospitals and pharmaceuticals to medical imaging and bio-instrumentation companies.
Biomechanics and prosthesis development is another major biomedical specialization, with engineers applying knowledge of solid and fluid mechanics in the development of a variety of prostheses, including knees, hips, shoulders and heart valves. Popular medical device companies include Soirin Medical (cardiovascular solutions) and Zimmer (hip and knee prostheses)
Biomedical engineers can also work in sports medicine, designing devices and approaches to injury recovery, as well as tailor solutions for patients in rehabilitation. As an example, the Institute for Rehabilitation Research and Development provides a full range of rehabilitation engineering services, and is the only facility of its kind in Eastern Ontario and Western Quebec.
There are a number of degree options for students to continue with graduate studies in Biomedical Engineering within the Mechanical Engineering Department. Students can either continue with a degree in Mechanical Engineering and specialize in Biomedical Engineering or obtain a degree in Biomedical Engineering. Some areas of interest are:
- Neuromotor control
- Medical robotics
- Surgical ergonomics
- Orthopaedic biomechanics
- Rehabilitation engineering
- Bio-Microelectromechanical systems
- Image processing
- Injury biomechanics
- Spinal cord injury
Requirements for Medical School
It should be noted that the Biomedical Engineering Option in Mechanical Engineering does not fulfill all the academic requirements needed for admission to most medical schools. Students who are interested in applying to medical schools with a background in engineering should look into the Pre-Med Alternative Path. Note that the Pre-Med Alternative Path may be combined with the Mechanical Engineering Biomedical Option if you desire.
Dr. Antony Hodgson