Biomedical Engineering Concentration Grows

Only in its second year of existence, the biomedical engineering concentration saw a 38 percent growth in the number of sophomore concentrators who declared this fall. This year, 12 seniors, 13 juniors, and 19 sophomores are currently studying under the concentration, according to Harvard College Facebook.

Enrollment in Engineering Sciences 53: “Quantitative Physiology as a Basis for Bioengineering,” the introductory concentration course offered in the fall, increased from 25 students in 2010 to 40 students this school year. Every sophomore who enrolled in ES53 this past fall ended up declaring either an A.B. in Biomedical Engineering or an S.B. in Engineering Sciences on the Bioengineering track.

According to Sujata K. Bhatia, Assistant Director for Undergraduate Studies in Biomedical Engineering, this growth can be attributed to students’ desires to apply design skills to medical problems.

“Students coming to Harvard really do want to change the world around them and there is increasing recognition that engineering teaches the skills that allow students to do exactly that,” said Bhatia.

Introduced in the fall of 2010, the biomedical engineering concentration offers a foundation in the life sciences and the engineering techniques necessary to create innovative solutions to unsolved clinical problems.

“Everything from EKG machines to echocardiograms and the intravenous drugs given to patients—these were all made possible by biomedical engineering,” said Bhatia.

Moreover, according to Bhatia, the career options for biomedical engineering concentrators extend beyond traditional engineering roles.

“Going into medical school, academia, engineering...there’s a whole array of possibilities, which is perfect for someone indecisive like me,” said Eric A. Bersin ’14, who declared biomedical engineering in November.

For many students, the 14 half-course requirement for the biomedical engineering A.B. is a major advantage of the concentration, as the engineering sciences program requires 20 half-courses.

“I wanted a rigourous math and science curriculum, and I also liked the fact that I would have more time to pursue other interests,” said Jake A. Weatherly ’12, who switched into biomedical engineering upon its creation his junior year.

Concentrators also cite the hands-on experience gained in biomedical engineering classes as a factor in their decision to concentrate.

In classes such as Engineering Science 227: “Medical Device Design,” students are paired in teams with surgeons in Boston-area hospitals to develop medical devices.

“I’m really excited with what my team is working on and hope that it will be really beneficial for surgeons in the future,” said Suvai Gunasekaran ’13, a biomedical engineering concentrator who is taking the class this term.

The bioengineering program has introduced a number of initiatives to welcome more students, including monthly socials open to the Harvard community and an annual bioengineering expo presenting student research in April.

For now, current students enjoy the advantages of a small department.

“I have made many of my friends through those long nights in Quincy dining hall working on engineering problem sets,“ said Gunasekaran.

“The professors are eager to share their work and give tours of their labs. My advisor’s been able to spend a lot of time with me,” said Weatherly, “but more concentrators would be great.”

—Staff writer Akua F. Abu can be reached at