Biomedical Engineering

Professor Demba Ba, Director of Undergraduate Studies

Dr. Linsey Moyer, Associate Director of Undergraduate Studies


Biomedical Engineering lies at the intersection of the physical and life sciences, incorporating principles from physics and chemistry to understand the operation of living systems. As in other engineering fields, the approach is highly quantitative: mathematical analysis and modeling are used to capture the function of systems from subcellular to organism scales. An education in Biomedical Engineering, and engineering more broadly, enables students to translate abstract hypothesis and scientific knowledge into working systems (e.g., prosthetic devices, imaging systems, and biopharmaceuticals). This enables one to both test the understanding of basic principles and to further this knowledge, and it places this understanding in the broader context of societal needs. 

In recognition of the pivotal importance of the life sciences and the technologies they inspire to our society, Harvard is committed to broadly educating engineers who will become leaders in the developing field of Biomedical Engineering. The objectives of this concentration include providing students a solid foundation in engineering, particularly as applied to the life sciences, within the setting of a liberal arts education. The concentration is flexibly structured for a diversity of educational and professional objectives. It enables the acquisition of a broad range of skills and attitudes drawn from the humanities, social sciences and sciences, in addition to engineering, which enhance engineering knowledge and which will contribute to future leadership and technical success. 

The overarching intellectual goal of biomedical engineering is to apply quantitative engineering analysis to understand the operation of living systems and design novel systems to satisfy unmet needs in medicine and industry. Specific objectives for students undertaking the A.B. in Biomedical Engineering are: 

  • Utilize mathematical analysis and modeling to capture the function of systems from subcellular to organism scales. 
  • Understand and apply the fundamental engineering disciplines (thermodynamics, fluid mechanics, kinetics); sciences (physics, biology, chemistry); and mathematics (statistics, differential equations) to solve biomedical problems. 
  • Translate scientific knowledge into working systems (e.g., prosthetic devices, imaging systems, and biopharmaceuticals). 
  • Gain depth of knowledge in chemical, biological, materials, and engineering science aspects of bioengineering. 

The AB degree consists of 14 courses (56 credits). This degree prepares students for the practice of Biomedical Engineering and for graduate study in engineering and medicine, and it is an excellent preparation for careers in other professions (business, law, etc.) as it provides an ideal framework for a well-rounded technical and scientific education. The curriculum is highly structured, with advanced courses building on the knowledge acquired in math, science, and introductory engineering science courses. Concentrators are encouraged to complete the common prerequisite course sequence in their first two years at Harvard. This includes Math (21a and 21b, 22a and 22b, 23a and 23b, or Applied Mathematics 21a and 21b, or 22a and 22b), Life Sciences and Chemistry (Life Sciences 1a and 1b), Physics (Applied Physics 50a and 50b; Physics 15a and 15b or 16 and 15b, or Physical Sciences 2 and 3 or 12a and 12b), and Engineering Sciences 53. Students are cautioned that it is more important to derive a solid understanding of these basic subjects than to complete them quickly without thorough knowledge; this material is extensively used in many subsequent courses. The Sophomore Forum provides an opportunity for students to become familiar with the range of engineering disciplines, research opportunities within the School, and to make industrial contacts in an informal setting. 

The technologies that engineers create are changing at an amazing rate, but the fundamental tools of engineering that enable these advances remain more constant. The Biomedical Engineering curriculum emphasizes a solid background in the chemical and biological aspects of the Biomedical Engineering field, with ample opportunity to learn about state-of-the-art technologies. In particular, students will take courses in systems modeling (ES 53 and BE 110) to better understand and mathematically model non-linear, complex biological systems; thermodynamics (ES 181, ES 112, or MCB 199) to appreciate the basic driving forces underlying biological and chemical systems; the fundamental processes of heat and mass transport (ES 123) that often control the rates of system changes; and molecular to tissue level engineering of biological systems (BE 121, 125 or ES 221). Through this coursework students also gain experience in the engineering design process, the engineering activity that requires creative synthesis as well as analysis. 

14 courses (56 credits)

  1. Required courses:  
    1. Mathematics: Applied Mathematics 21a and 21b; Applied Mathematics 22a and 22b; Mathematics 21a and 21b; Mathematics 22a and 22b; or Mathematics 23a and 23b.  
    2. Physics: Applied Physics 50a and 50b; Physical Sciences 2 and 3 or 12a and 12b; or Physics 15a and 15b, or 16 and 15b.  
    3. Statistics: Applied Math 101 or Statistics 111.  
    4. Organic Chemistry: Chemistry 17 or 20.  
    5. Cell Biology and Genetics: Life and Physical Sciences A or Life Sciences 1a, and Life Sciences 1b. Students who take Life and Physical Sciences A should consult with the Director of Undergraduate studies to get advice on advanced class selection.  
    6. Engineering Sciences (five courses): ES 53; BE 110; ES 123; one of the following: ES 181, ES 112, or MCB 199; one of the following: BE 121, BE 125, BE 160, BE 191, or ES 227.  
    7. Approved Elective (one course): BE 121, BE 125, BE 128, BE 129, BE 130, BE 160, BE 191, ES 120, ES 221, ES 227, ES 228, Chem 27, 30 or 160; CS 50; MCB 60, 80 or OEB 53, or 100- or 200-level engineering courses by prior approval. ES 91r cannot count as an elective. 
  2. Sophomore Forum: Sophomore year. Non-credit. Spring term.  
  3. Thesis: required for recommendations of high honors and highest honors, and for joint concentrators. 
  4. General Examination: None. 
  5. Other information:
    1. By prior petition and approval, other advanced undergraduate or graduate courses, as well as courses at MIT, can be used to satisfy general requirements and specialization requirements and electives. Petitions will only be considered for courses that possess technical content at a level similar to other upper-level engineering courses at SEAS.  
    2. Pass/Fail and Sat/Unsat: All courses for concentration credit must be letter-graded.  
    3. Plan of Study: Concentrators are required to file an approved departmental Plan of Study and to keep their plan up to date in subsequent years. Plan of Study forms may be obtained from the Office of Academic Programs (Pierce 110) or from the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) website.  
    4. Independent Project: Students are required to have a substantial research experience in order to deepen their understanding of at least one aspect of the Biomedical Engineering field, and to develop hands-on experience in the scientific method and/or technology development. This typically would be fulfilled through a summer project resulting in a significant written report; alternatively, ES 91r or ES 100hf may be used to fulfill this requirement.  
    5. Joint Concentrations: Biomedical Engineering participates in joint concentrations. The requirements for joint concentrators are the same as for sole concentrators; in addition, a joint concentrator is required to write an interdisciplinary thesis that combines the two fields. This thesis is required regardless of whether Biomedical Engineering is the primary or allied concentration.  
    6. Any exceptions to these policies must be approved via written petition. 
Students interested in concentrating in Biomedical Engineering should discuss their plans with the Director of Undergraduate Studies, Professor Demba Ba,, 617-496-1228; or the Assistant Director of Undergraduate Studies, Dr. Linsey Moyer,, (617) 496-2840; or the Undergraduate Academic Programs Manager, Kathy Lovell,, (617) 496-1524. 

Each undergraduate who elects to concentrate in Biomedical Engineering is assigned a faculty adviser. If students do not request a change in adviser, they have the same adviser until they graduate. Each student is reassigned to another faculty member while the student's original faculty adviser is on leave. It is expected that students will discuss their Plans of Study and progress with their Director or Assistant Director of Undergraduate Studies at the beginning of each term. Students may also seek advice from their faculty adviser, the Director or Assistant Director of Undergraduate Studies, or the Undergraduate Academic Programs Manager at any time. 

Further information is available from the Undergraduate Academic Programs Manager in the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences Office of Academic Programs, Pierce Hall 110 (617-495-2833). 

Number of Concentrators as of December

Concentrators 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019
Biomedical Engineering 17 41 48 56 52 59 35 33 31 40
Biomedical Engineering + another field   1 1 2 0 2 2 4 4 4
Another field + Biomedical Engineering   1 1 2 2 1 0 3 1 0