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Department of Chemical Engineering changes name

Joe Trombello | Thursday, August 28, 2003

In order to better reflect their gradual process towards integrating bioengineering and molecular biology into their curriculum, the Department of Chemical Engineering formally changed its name over the summer to the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering.

According to Mark McCready, department chair, the name change reflects seven years of integration of molecular engineering into his department’s curriculum, faculty interests and research opportunities. In addition, new faculty in bioengineering were hired and additional faculty modified their interests in research to better represent a biological perspective.

“By the end of last year, we felt we had made enough progress on our plan to alter the department name to reflect our changes in research and curriculum,” he said. “The embracement of molecular biology is occurring because it provides intellectual and educational opportunities that are so exciting we could not pass on them.”

The name change will give both undergraduates and graduate students better access to research and courses focusing on biomolecular engineering. Courses in such areas as biomaterials engineering and bioprocess engineering have already been offered, and McCready said that his department plants to recruit at least one additional faculty member specializing in bioengineering to further advance course and research opportunities.

“If the opportunities were there to take electives, I would consider it,” said Jon Conover, a Knott Hall junior majoring in the department. “The more opportunities there are for people, the better.”

Agnes Ostafin, an assistant professor in the department specializing in biomolecular engineering, said that the name change may also attract students with an interest in this area of engineering who would not otherwise have applied.

“In the past, students interested in these areas [biological or biomolecular engineering] were unaware of the opportunities available to them. Web searches did not hit our department, and our name was not associated strongly with this area,” she said. “If they [students] do not see they can get appropriate training here, they will go elsewhere. It is a necessity to sell the assets of the department in the strongest terms possible.”

At the graduate level, McCready said the changes to the graduate core are planned in “the near future,” but he also said that the addition of biomolecular engineering to the department’s name will probably not significantly improve the reputation of the program, since it is already highly regarded.

“Since we are already recognized by leading chemical departments as producing students for their Ph. D programs who are better or equal to any other university, our growth into bioengineering will not be likely to improve this situation,” he said. “However, our students will be intrinsically better educated … [and] should see expanded employment opportunities as chemical engineering programs around the country are hiring faculty who have bioengineering interests.”

Chris Norfolk, president of the Chemical Engineering Graduate Student organization, says that the department’s additional focus on biomolecular engineering will have a global rather than an individual effect on students enrolled in the program.

“The change in name makes the department more appealing to a wider group of students, at both the graduate and the undergraduate levels, and we’re excited about attracting even greater numbers of the nation’s brightest students into our labs,” he said.

Andre Palmer, an assistant professor in the department, said that the name change reflects the growing importance of biomedical and biomolecular engineering within the numerous concentrations that comprise engineering.

“I am thrilled that the department is at the vanguard of the trend towards biomolecular engineering,” he said. “Biomedical and biomolecular engineering is the hottest, fastest-growing trend in engineering right now … universities are trying to increase their research capacity in bio-based projects and industries such as pharmaceutical companies always are looking for students with a fine-tuned understanding of biomedical, biochemical and biomolecular applications and concepts.”

Palmer also said that students of all levels in the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering will see benefits.

“The name change will benefit current students because when they enter the job market, prospective employers will understand that their curricula includes solid grounding in biomolecular theories and applications. I hope it also encourages current engineering students to consider taking a bio-based course, or to conduct research in a bio-based lab,” he said. “Additionally, both undergraduate and graduate students who are considering study at Notre Dame will understand that they can take advantage of the department’s shift toward biomolecular engineering.”

McCready said that his department is considering some changes to the undergraduate chemical engineering curriculum, but these changes are not related to biomolecular engineering. He also said that the current concentration option in biomolecular engineering will continue for students who wish to take electives devoted solely to this topic.