As part of the curriculum for the biomedical engineering major, the university offered its first biomaterials class in the fall of 2013. The major had only been offered for three years, but over 20 students had already declared the major. The first graduating senior graduated in December 2013. According to senior Bruno Jacobo, the course was designed for biomedical engineering majors but was open as an elective to other science majors.
Engineering professor Lance Gibson said the course taught students about what kind of materials were used in the medical device industry and why those materials were used. From an engineering standpoint, the course specified how students would design those materials for medical devices or other applications.
“Obviously, all medical devices have to be made up of something,” Gibson said. “Specifically in the area of biomedical engineering, it is not just engineering a product. You are designing it for some sort of medical application, and you are dealing with complexity of human life as well as FDA regulations.”
Senior Thuy Tram said that in addition to learning the various materials that made up medical implants, students learned how those materials interacted with the body. Some materials were rejected by the body, while others encouraged the body to function normally, such as an implant helping a bone to heal. In their future careers, students would have to determine which materials to use and which ones not to use to create useful products for the human body.
“It all depends on how long you want [the implant] in the body and what purpose it has,” Tram said. “All that goes into determining what material you should use for the implant.”
Gibson said he prepared to teach the course by looking at other university programs. He joined the Biomedical Engineering Society and attended a conference in Seattle. He also searched through several textbooks to find one that suited the style in which he wanted to teach the course.
“Many textbooks are biology-based, and we want this class to be more engineering-based,” Gibson said. “There are some more engineering-based biomaterials books that I will look at for next year.”
Jacobo said the class was unique in its conversational style, something that was made possible by having only nine students. Students discussed topics covered in the course and presented information about current events in the biomedical engineering field. Jacobo said he hoped the course would include a more hands-on approach in future semesters.
“Since you are talking about so many materials and how to use them in the body, getting to know them physically would be a huge help,” Jacobo said.
Aside from mastering the technical requirements of biomedical engineering, Gibson said he hoped the students would finish the course with an appreciation for the complexity of the field.
“A class of biomaterials really encompasses all of biomedical engineering because you can’t make a product without the materials,” Gibson said. “They need to realize how complex and multi-disciplinary the field is.”