About the Discipline

The Institute of Biological Engineering (IBE) was established to encourage inquiry, application and interest in biological engineering in the broadest and most liberal manner and to promote the professional development of its members.

IBE is the "headquarters" of the biological engineering discipline. IBE provides engineers, scientists and students a forum to discuss, debate and advance biological engineering.

IBE promotes the view that biological engineering is a science-based, application-independent discipline that is aligned with the perspective and foundation of biology. IBE espouses the view that biological engineers should possess the scientific knowledge of biology, including its philosophical views, be proficient in the principles and practices of engineering, and be capable of integrating discoveries from multiple disciplines to design solutions for problems.

Biological engineering is different from an application-focused engineering area like bio-medical engineering which utilizes knowledge, techniques and perspectives of electrical, mechanical, or chemical engineering and applies them to the field of medicine. As a science-based engineering discipline, biological engineering gives the flexibility to pursue any application area - from health, food and agriculture to the environment.

Biological engineering is in its nascent stage. Its body of knowl-edge, both in content and perspective, is at an elementary level and distinct methodologies have yet to be developed. A major focus of the biological engineering knowl-edge has been on the application of physical, chemical, or mathematical sciences and engineering principles to the study of biology, medicine or health. New and emerging biology-based technologies give only a glimpse of the overall potentials for biological engineering.

These perspectives simply impose the current physical sciences/engineering paradigm on biology. A deeper reflection about the biological engineering knowl-edge is needed. A living-system perspective, wherein decision making is based on variable interrelationships with other living organisms, is complex and may not be amenable to reductionism. Current activities integrating biology in engineering owe their approach to the idea that in order to understand organisms or populations of organisms one needs to understand completely their functional genomics and structural biology.

Another perspective emerges when the object-level broadens to include the scale dimensions from genetic (atomic) to organismic biology. The concept of a network of varying relationships among groups of organisms within their environment begins to appear. This shift from function to organization is represented in the shift from the mechanistic to the systemic view. The ecology of the system is modeled in terms of input/output relationships to anticipate system outcomes. Currently, the systems approach does not delve into the views from the "genetic" (atomic) approaches.

There is the question of similitude in biological engineering, that is, similarities across scales. Does the object level matter? How to incorporate holistic approaches and reductionism concurrently is a question that should be discussed. This feature is yet another attribute that distinguishes biological engineering from any of the current engineering disciplines Biological engineering must have core "operational" concepts. At this time they appear to include transport processes at and across interfaces; locomotion; kinetics; bioenergetics; biological engineering properties of materials, products and surfaces; quantitative understanding of biology across all object-levels (from genetic to eco-level); similitude in biological engineering; and design of and within biological systems.

Major ingredients of the science-based, application-independent biological engineering discipline are core concepts based on first principles; perspectives based on living systems and uncertainty; and applications of principles of similitude in biological engineering that enables selection of appropriate object-level-based engineering approaches to problems for designing solutions.

IBE invites all those who have ideas to contribute in building the biological engineering discipline and designing our future in the new century.

Brahm Verma, IBE President, 2002

Acknowledgement: Adaptation from the writings of Jim Dooley, Art Johnson, Joel Cuello, Brahm Verma and in the Proceedings of IBE Meetings.