Bio-Engineering - the human machine

Sep 14, 2007

Kettering University has turned Engineering inside out - instead of focusing on things that people interact with, the new Bio-Engineering and Life Sciences labs will focus on understanding how the human body works and how to repair it.

Engineering curricula traditionally have not had a life sciences component, but that is changing at Kettering University in Flint, Mich. The university, which focuses its curriculum on Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, has opened two new Life Sciences and Bio-Engineering Laboratories to "better understand the most elegantly engineered structure known - the human body," according to Dr. Patrick Atkinson, professor of Mechanical Engineering.

The Dane and Mary Louise Miller Life Sciences and Bio-Engineering Laboratories were dedicated Sept. 13, in honor of alumnus, trustee and long-time supporter of Kettering, Dr. Dane Miller '69 and his wife Mary Louise Miller of Warsaw, Ind. Construction of the $1.2 million laboratories was made possible by a generous donation from the Millers.

"We are honored to be here today," said Miller of himself and Mary Louise. "I may hold the paper that says I have a degree in Engineering, but Mary Louise has a degree too," he said, crediting her with being instrumental in the success of Biomet.

The Bio-Engineering laboratories support new curriculum enabling students to get an engineering degree as preparation for medical school or a career in pharmaceuticals, said Atkinson.

"Kettering wants to educate students to understand how the body works and how to repair it to make it better," Atkinson said. "The labs are multi-use spaces that can be used in tandem or separately by converting to surgery simulation suites complete with surgical scrub sinks where students perform simulated surgery," he explained.

"These labs ALMOST make me want to still be at Kettering," joked Molly Hill, a 2007 Mechanical Engineering/Bio-Engineering graduate of Kettering who was a co-op employee at Biomet and is currently employed there full time.

Crediting the Miller's with indirectly influencing her choice of college and career path, Hill explained her interest in Bio-Engineering began with Kettering's Lives Improve Through Engineering (LITE) pre-college program that introduces high school women to careers in the field. The Millers support both the LITE program and the Bio-Engineering program.

Both laboratories, comprising approximately 3.400 square feet, can be used for lecture or lab, with additional features including a cold room, storage area and a prep room to support laboratory functions.

Classes to be taught using the laboratories include: Anatomy and Physiology, Bio-Chemistry I & II, Biology I & II and Introduction to Bio-Engineering Applications.

To develop students' understanding of the integration between machines and the human body, they will be required to build devices that serve a surgical goal using household materials. "We're not teaching with just a pencil and paper," Atkinson said, "we have students perform surgery on their own with tools found in hardware stores, since all instruments used in surgery are based on the same principle as those used for machines."

The move into Bio-Engineering at Kettering is in response to a growing interest among young people to be of greater good to society. "Kettering has always had a solid Engineering base," said Atkinson, "but not all students want a traditional engineering career.

Medical schools are looking for more technically trained candidates, according to Atkinson. "Engineers are perfect for that," he said, "people don't necessarily think about engineering and medicine being compatible, but look at the tools used in the field of medicine, surgical tables and ventilators used during surgery are both examples of electrical and mechanical engineering.

"Medicine is a natural fit for engineers and we are going to do our part to integrate them through this program," said Atkinson.

For more information about the Bio-Engineering program at Kettering University, visit

Written by Dawn Hibbard
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