What is a Biochemical Engineering Degree?

Biochemical engineers combine engineering principles with knowledge of mathematics, chemistry, the biological sciences, and physics to convert raw materials into products that benefit society. They develop new ways to use cells, enzymes, antibodies, and other biochemical agents in medicine, environmental services, and industry.

Students of biochemical engineering study the chemical reactions and physicochemical transformations that are the foundations of the field. As graduates, their objective is to address the world’s complex needs while preserving resources and opportunities for future generations.

Program Options

It is important to select a program that is accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET).

Some schools offer combined degrees in chemical and biochemical engineering or biochemical and biomedical engineering.

Bachelor’s Degree in Biochemical Engineering – Four Year Duration
Undergraduate students of biochemical engineering begin their studies with an extensive series of foundation courses in biology, chemistry, physics, and mathematics. They then take fundamental engineering courses that cover topics such as thermodynamics, kinetics, process control, bioreactors, biotechnology facility design, and regulatory compliance.

The biochemical engineering laboratory is a major component of the program. With a Bachelor’s Degree in Biochemical Engineering, graduates qualify for entry-level jobs in the field.

Here is a snapshot of a typical biochemical engineering bachelor’s curriculum:

Core Courses

  • Calculus
  • Vector Analysis
  • Linear Algebra
  • Differential Equations
  • Classical Physics
  • General Chemistry
  • Introduction to Biology: Essentials of Life on Earth
  • Introduction to Analysis and Design in Chemical Engineering
  • Material Balances
  • Engineering Problem Solving Laboratory
  • Chemical Engineering Profession
  • Introduction to Academic Literacies
  • Mathematical Methods in Biochemical and Chemical Engineering
  • Fluid Mechanics for Biochemical and Chemical Engineers
  • Heat Transfer for Biochemical and Chemical Engineers
  • Mass Transfer for Biochemical and Chemical Engineers
  • Chemical Engineering Thermodynamics with Laboratory
  • Chemical Engineering Transport Laboratory
  • Chemical Kinetics and Reaction Engineering
  • Process Dynamic and Control
  • Process Economics and Green Design
  • Plant Design Project
  • Biochemical Engineering Fundamentals
  • Bioseparations
  • Biotechnology Facility Design and Regulatory Compliance
  • Bioprocess Engineering Laboratory
  • Structure and Function of Biomolecules
  • Introductory Microbiology with Laboratory
  • Physical Chemistry: Introduction to Quantum Mechanics
  • Organic Chemistry with Laboratory

Possible Electives

  • Biomolecular Engineering Laboratory
  • Cell Biology
  • Manufacturing Processes for Biomedical Engineering
  • Modeling Strategies for Biomedical Engineering
  • Pharmaceutical Chemistry
  • Food Microbiology
  • Bacterial Physiology
  • Plant Genetics
  • Writing in the Engineering Discipline

Master’s Degree in Biochemical Engineering – Two to Three Year Duration
Master’s programs in biochemical engineering often offer students more than one pathway to their degree. Typical options include a thesis pathway, a research project pathway, and a course-only pathway. Regardless of the choice that individual students make, they are generally required to complete a limited core curriculum, such as the following:

  • Chemical Engineering Thermodynamics
  • Methods of Engineering Analysis
  • Transport Phenomena
  • Advanced Chemical Reaction Kinetics

Doctoral Degree in Biochemical Engineering – Four to Six Year Duration
The Doctoral Degree in Biochemical Engineering is very research intensive and prepares students for a career as an independent scholar in the areas of research, teaching, or advanced technical work. As in the master’s program, it is common for schools to require that doctoral students complete some core courses before advancing to Ph.D. candidacy. The four courses listed above, in the master’s section, are examples. Other requirements are passing a qualifying exam; preparation, research, and presentation of a dissertation proposal; and public defense of the doctoral dissertation.

These are examples of areas in which master’s and doctoral students may focus their studies and research:

  • Cellular engineering
  • Enzyme/ Protein Engineering
  • Tissue Engineering
  • Development of blood substitutes
  • T-cell activation and production
  • Design and delivery of gene therapy vehicles
  • Nano/Micro particle design for drug delivery
  • Wastewater and hazardous waste treatment
  • Alternative energies
  • Use of nanomaterials to engineer improved inorganic materials for energy storage and transformation

Degrees Similar to Biochemical Engineering

The focus of biochemistry is the chemical processes and reactions that occur in living matter. Biochemists apply principles of both biology and chemistry to issues in many different sectors, including the environment, medicine and health, industry and manufacturing, agriculture, biofuels, and marine science.

Biomedical Engineering
Simply stated, biomedical engineering uses engineering to solve health and medical problems. For example, a biomedical engineer might look for chemical signals in the body that warn of a particular disease or condition.

Biophysics applies the theories and methods of physics to understand how biological systems like the brain, the circulatory system, and the immune system function. Coursework includes math, chemistry, physics, engineering, pharmacology, and materials science.

Chemical Engineering
This degree field is focused on how the chemical, biochemical, and physical properties of substances can be changed to turn them into something else. Examples of this work are making plastic from oil, developing synthetic fibers for clothing, identifying ways to mass-produce drugs, and finding ways to solve environmental problems.

Chemistry deals with identifying the substances that make up matter. Degree programs in chemistry focus on investigating these substances: their properties; how they interact, combine, and change; and how scientists can use chemical processes to form new substances.

Food Science
The subject matter of food science degree programs spans the areas of biology, biochemistry, and chemical engineering. Students learn how to apply these foundations to examine food properties and develop foods that are sustainable.

Materials Science
Materials scientists apply principles of engineering, physics, and chemistry to study existing materials and invent and manufacture new materials. Their work has broad applications to solving real-world problems. It is essential to our everyday lives. Degree programs in materials science cover the structure and composition of materials, how they behave under various conditions, and how they can be manipulated and combined for specific uses in specific industries – from health and engineering to electronics, construction, and manufacturing.

Skills You’ll Learn

Individuals who study and work in the field of biochemical engineering develop a set of skills that are transferable to a variety of careers. Among these skills are:

  • Ability to formulate and test hypotheses and ideas
  • Computer-aided design (CAD) software
  • Creativity and inquisitiveness
  • Critical thinking
  • Data collection, analysis, and information processing
  • Detail orientation
  • Developing processes
  • Documentation and reporting
  • Maintaining and updating knowledge
  • Managing and leading cross-functional teams
  • Persistence
  • Training and teaching
  • Troubleshooting

What Can You Do with a Biochemical Engineering Degree?

Biochemical engineering graduates work primarily in the areas of chemical manufacturing, scientific research and development, and sustainable production and manufacturing.

These are some of the areas in which they make significant contributions:

  • Cleaning Products
  • Environmental Remediation – water purification, removal of pollutants or the reversal of other environmental damage
  • Food Engineering / Food Production and Processing
  • Healthcare / Medicine - making medicines from microbes
  • Personal Care Products
  • Pesticides
  • Petroleum Products – such as oil, paint, and plastic
  • Pharmaceuticals and Biopharmaceuticals
  • Pulp and Paper
  • Renewable Energy / Biofuels
  • Technology Development – example: agro (agricultural) technology
  • Textiles

Here are some of the titles commonly held by biochemical engineers:

  • Biomedical Engineering Technician
  • Bioprocess Engineer
  • Food Processing Engineer
  • Pharmaceutical Engineer
  • Project Engineer
  • Quality Control Engineer
  • Research and Development Manager
  • Research Scientist


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