International Engineering Ambassadors
Insight into the life & course of international students.

Saturday, 26 April 2014

Why I Chose Bioengineering?

Why Do I Choose Bioengineering?
Written by: Jannah Mohd Shaffie

I took A level at a college in Malaysia, a small South East Asia country.  Mathematics, Chemistry, Physics and bit of General Knowledge are the subjects I studied. Yes, there was no Biology at all. Well, fortunately, I took Biology in SPM, an exam equivalent to O Level. Phew, at least I knew something like Antibodies, hypothalamus and peristalsis!

Well, having felt the years with and without biology I could really tell myself which path did I like the most. During A level, I am fairly happy having been able to study two of my favourite subjects, Mathematics and Physics. But at the same time, I felt something is missing. I thought I just miss learning about my own body!  Learning about cells, organs like lung and stomach and how all systems interacted with one another.

I remembered in A level Physics, I learnt about medical imaging in physics. It was the time when I got to know how MRI, CT Scan, Ultrasound and X ray worked. It was quite tough but I enjoyed it, really! The reason why I enjoyed it more than physic or biology on its own, was because the topic merged both subjects together. Apart from that, being able to help fellow human race diagnose, and treat their disease, without the need to be a doctor, is super amazing!

On top of that, I realised that technology could really improve the life of human in an immense way! Lack of doctors would always be an issue in most countries especially in the developing world. Therefore, medical technologies, of which are developed by bioengineers, would be very helpful to solve the issue. Reason being was, medical technologies could assist the doctors in decision making process and assist during operations, thus made efficient the process of solving many patients’ cases. At the end of the day, more underprivileged people could get the help from the doctors.

In 2012, I went for a humanitarian mission in Cambodia. At a village or kampong in Cambodia’s suburb, me and my team did medical check-up of which was very hard for the village folks to just get a decent one. Many people came with their stories and sickness. Unfortunately, for those who were sick, painkillers and aspirin were the only thing the doctor could give. There was also a kid whom the doctor suspected something wrong with him. The team send him to the hospital in a city, did a diagnosis, and as the result announced, he had Ventricular Septal Defect – VSD. Doctor said, he had only few years to live. The whole team was really sad to receive the new. The fact was, there were so many Cambodians out there who were worse, could not get clinical diagnosis done as one need to travel to faraway cities and it cost them immensely that the kampong folks just could not afford. Well, all these experiences slowly built my determination to learn about bioengineering and hopefully contribute to the people back.

Bioengineering is a huge and diverse field. There are lot of topics one can focus on. At University of Sheffield, starting from second year, he or she can chose any of the four main sub courses which are biomedical engineering, tissue engineering, medical devices and implant, and bioprocessing. All sub courses are different from each other. Biomedical engineering itself is very wide and it covers from medical imaging to synthetic blood vessel. Tissue engineering on the other hand, looks more into the histological topics like type of tissues and how to create epidermal tissue from stem cell. Bioprocessing meanwhile, is about manipulating DNA in organism to be used in myriad of fields like medicine, industry, environment and technology. And lastly, medical devices and implant sub course is related with control system engineering where robotics in medicine is amongst the technology developed under it.

Most people are surprised to learn that I took bioengineering. I bet because it combines both biology and engineering, in which most people think, cannot go together. But as for me and all other bioengineers believed, if you are fully passionate about what you are doing, you will do just fine! In fact, it could be so much fun because you are able to learn about fairly opposite things, and at the same time mesmerize how both of them fit together!


  1. Hello! I have an offer for Bioengineering at Sheffield. Your post was really helpful in understanding the differences between the specializations offered in second year. I have a question about Bioprocessing - how is this used in the environment? Is it used in conservation or mostly just genomics?

  2. I'm the theme leader for the bioprocessing component of the Sheffield Bioengineering degree. I'd like to just slightly qualify what was stated in the post. The bioprocessing theme does indeed cover manipulation of DNA for a range of applications, but our main interest is in using DNA manipulation (genetic modification) to make cells into factories for producing valuable chemicals. So the bioprocessing theme mainly considers an application called Industrial Biotechnology, which you can think about as a sub-discipline of Chemical Engineering.

    The range of bioprocessing products that are manufactured is immense, including advanced biofuels, bulk chemicals, fine chemicals (flavourings, colours), antibiotics, industrial enzymes (think lipases in your washing liquid), peptide and protein drugs, vaccines and even cells as products themselves (stem cells). In the Bioengineering degree we focus on the more medical end of things.

    I said above that Industrial Biotechnology is related to Chemical Engineering. Alongside the DNA manipulation we use to engineer the cell, we also cover a lot of chemical engineering principles. This addresses things like how fluids flow in stirred tanks, how to build mathematical models of a population of cells that are growing and dying at different rates, how you separate your valuable product from the complicated mixture of molecules the cell produces, and so on - everything you need to make functioning bioprocessing manufacturing facility. In the third year you work in a team to design a bioprocessing facility to make either an antibiotic or a therapeutic protein, which involves not only working out how to genetically modify the cell and the bits of machinery in the manufacturing process, but also the costs associated with making the product so you can estimate profits.

    The Bioprocessing theme also considers the new field of Synthetic Biology - a field identified by the UK government as one of the eight great technologies that will change the world. Here we think a little more broadly than Industrial Biotechnology as we also cover Synthetic Biology applications in Environmental Monitoring, Medicine, Computing and many other areas.

    I hope this gives you a better idea of the bioprocessing theme at Sheffield.