New Binghamton University bioengineering program cuts across frontiers


Binghamton University is launching a bioengineering program designed to teach students to solve the complex problems of the 21st century.

The University has recruited senior researcher Kenneth McLeod from SUNY Stony Brook to oversee the development of a bioengineering program that will eventually offer undergraduate and graduate opportunities as well as a significant research component.

The new department, which is temporarily located on the ground floor of the library, is slated to find a home in the Innovative Technologies Complex on the eastern edge of the campus once renovation of the former NYSEG building is complete.

Meanwhile, the graduate bioengineering program is already underway this fall with the admission of four graduate students, two of whom followed McLeod to Binghamton from Stony Brook, where he was a senior faculty researcher and the director of bioengineering. Undergraduates will likely be admitted to the program for the first time next fall. Final approval from the State University of New York on the undergraduate program is expected by year’s end.

McLeod has submitted a $1 million proposal to the Whitaker Foundation to jump-start the program with support for additional faculty recruitment, development of innovative teaching laboratories, support for graduate students, and student recruitment and outreach activities. Word on the grant is expected next month.

Provost Mary Ann Swain said the new bioengineering program offers students a special educational opportunity. “This program builds upon Binghamton’s strength in systems science by interweaving its content with that of strong analytic, mathematical and problem-solving skills in engineering and knowledge of living systems from biology,” she said.

Swain added: “Students will interact with faculty conducting research across a breadth of disciplinary and professional perspectives. We believe students will graduate with competencies necessary for success in a wide variety of positions that take an interdisciplinary approach to health care and product development.”

McLeod said he came to Binghamton because he saw the potential to develop a program that provides students with the requisite systemic perspective. He wants students in the Binghamton program to gain the skills and the education they need to handle all that the 21st century has to throw at them.

“They’re going to have great communication skills, great writing skills,” he said. ”They’re going to know how to tackle ill-defined problems. They’re going to be comfortable in the physical world, and they’re going to be comfortable in the world of biology, which is going to be very important in the future.

“These people are really going to be the consummate problem solvers. That’s why I see this as the sine qua non major of the 21st century. Give me a job where the ability to solve ill-defined problems isn’t important. From the laboratory to the diplomatic corps, from industry to health care institutions, there is no such job.”

Starting from scratch with two full-time faculty — Craig Laramie, who specializes in genomic analysis, and Don Gause, a system engineer— and several adjuncts in his fledgling department, McLeod plans a program that will give students a biologist’s understanding of living systems and the problem-solving approach of engineers.

Specially designed courses will introduce students to applications that extend from the molecular, to the tissue, organ and social system level. In the same way that electrical engineers understand electrical systems, mechanical engineers understand mechanical systems, and chemical engineers chemical interactions, bioengineers need a view of biology that allows them to look at the big picture and understand the rules of living systems so they can harness or change the rules when needed.

McLeod said he wants Binghamton’s curriculum to help bioengineering students develop a critical understanding of basic engineering, a deep understanding of biology, and perhaps most importantly, the ability to step back and see the forest and the trees.

Last Updated: 9/17/13