College of Engineering and Technology
Bioprocess engineering is one of the fastest growing segments of the economy. Bioprocess engineers design and develop equipment, methods, and systems for the efficient environmentally sound manufacturing of medicines, vaccines, diagnostics and biologically based products. ECU bioprocess engineering leads to careers ranging from pharmaceutical manufacturing to biofuels, foods and environmental engineering.
Do you want to make a real difference in your world? Would you like to improve quality of life, protect the environment, and help meet the needs of a growing world population? For the student who enjoys science and math, bioprocess engineering offers a unique opportunity to provide food, fuels, pharmaceutical and environmental systems without degrading or depleting our natural resources.
ECU Bioprocess Engineering offers a unique and valuable educational experience. Coursework includes the ECU engineering core, micro biology, and organic chemistry, complemented by bioprocessing topics such as fermentation, separation, plant design and bioprocess quality. The breadth of the bioprocess engineering experience means that graduates have many career options, from ecosystems protection to food safety to bioenergy, biofuels and human health.
Check out information on the Bureau of Labor Statistics web site on bioprocess engineering related career fields:
Dr. Loren Limberis is an Associate Professor in the Department of Engineering. His research interests include biomolecular engineering, bioprocess engineering, and biohybrid devices. His research involves the development of novel biomolecules for use in a variety of biotechnology devices, such as biosensors, research and diagnostic tools, and other bioengineered applications.
Bioprocess engineering doesn't seem to carry the same household name recognition as other engineering disciplines, such as electrical, chemical, mechanical, and biomedical engineering. Most everyone has heard and perhaps has an understanding of these more common engineering disciplines, but bioprocess engineering is more familiar than most would expect. One of the best ways to describe bioprocess engineering is to consider this discipline as the biological version of chemical engineering. Live organisms and enzymes are used in production processes rather than organic or inorganic chemicals and catalysts. Biological products, such as vaccines, insulin, and biotherapeutic drugs, cannot be produced using conventional chemical engineering techniques. Chemical and bioprocess engineering are parallel disciplines in terms of processes for the manufacture of products, but they use different methods and conditions that are required to produce products for different purposes. Overall, bioprocess engineering is a specialized version of chemical engineering dealing with the design and development of equipment and processes for large scale commercial manufacture of a variety of biological products, such as biopharmaceuticals, industrial enzymes, biofuels, biopolymers, and other materials.
There is a critical need for bioprocess engineers in North Carolina. North Carolina is the third largest state in the United States with the number of biotechnology companies. According to the Impact of Life Sciences in North Carolina report of 2014 prepared by Battelle Technology Partnership Practice, the life science industry in North Carolina rose 30.9% from 2001 to 2012 compared to just 1% for the total private sector in the state. This growth is four times the national average and this growth occurred during two recessions. North Carolina has over 600 biotechnology companies with over 61,000 employees. The largest North Carolina biotechnology industry is the development and manufacture of biopharmaceuticals, such as new vaccines and other biological medicines. To sustain this pace in growth North Carolina critically needs bioprocess engineers. The bioprocess engineering concentration is ECU's commitment to help sustain the growth, fulfill the needs in the industry, and provide opportunities for our students to engage in exciting, meaningful, and professional careers.
Engineers with a concentration in bioprocess engineering are central to the field of biotechnology. Bioprocess engineers solve problems using biological systems, such as bacterial and mammalian cells, enzymes, and other biochemical products. In essence, bioprocess engineers design, supervise, and troubleshoot equipment and processes for the bioprocessing and biotechnology industries. They contribute to improving quality control and production efficiency in highly regulated sectors such as the pharmaceutical industry.
Like many other engineering subdisciplines, bioprocess engineers may choose careers in industry, government, and academia. Engineers in the industry may also work with regulatory agencies, such as the Food and Drug Administration, European Medicines Agency, and other international regulatory agencies. Bioprocess engineers may also be working with customers and even investors. In academia, engineers research new technologies in all aspects of manufacturing. In any area bioprocess engineers chose to work, they will always be involved with the technological aspects and processes of biotechnology in terms of designing, operating, improving, regulating, and supervising bioproduction processes. More specific areas include genetic engineering of microorganisms and cells, design of scale up manufacturing systems, process design and development, and biomolecular engineering to produce biological tools for the manufacture of biological products.
The bioprocess engineering concentration curriculum was developed using novel approaches to engineering education based upon proven educational techniques designed to engage the students and improve their mastery of concepts. Our curriculum was developed through grants from the National Science Foundation and the North Carolina Biotechnology Center with the goal of challenging our students to develop and apply critical thinking skills. Our approach was to apply How People Learn theory to the development of our curriculum. Based on this theory, we develop an integrated curriculum by thematically linking the courses and the laboratories to more effectively enhance the educational experience. Our curriculum ensures students apply related materials based on themes as they progress through the curriculum. This helps the students make connections between seemingly unrelated materials and reinforce selected concepts. Our graduates are able to apply their experiences in the integrated curriculum to tackle challenges, generate ideas, use their resources, and test hypotheses and ideas culminating in a successful approach to managing and solving problems.
The curriculum is also laboratory intensive. Five of the seven concentration courses contain laboratories. It is our belief that students gain more knowledge with greater impact and can apply that knowledge through hands-on experiences in the laboratory. These laboratory experiences include, among other projects, designing and optimizing benchtop bioreactor culture conditions for the manufacture of firefly luciferase (the protein used by fireflies to produce the familiar greenish/yellow light) and the design of purification processes to isolate and characterize the bioluminescent enzyme. Our students also participate in two 2-day short courses in the Biomanufacturing Training and Education Center (BTEC) in the Centennial Campus in Raleigh. BTEC is a unique, state-of-the-art bioprocess training and education facility serving regional, national, and international industries and agencies. The courses ensure the students gain even further understanding and gain new skills needed in the biomanufacturing industry. Our students also tour several regional biopharmaceutical and biotechnology facilities as part of their coursework.
It is not only courses and labs our students engage in during their matriculation in our program. Most students land competitive internships with regional companies over the summer and occasionally during the school year. Other students perform research with faculty members during the summer and even during the school year. Our students are also heavily engaged in professional development activities and attend conferences as members in the International Society for Pharmaceutical Engineering. These are the most effective ways our students are developing and honing their engineering, communication, and critical thinking skills while at ECU.
If you want to create novel solutions to many of our world's problems with food, medicines, and alternatives to fossil fuels, then you should seriously consider bioprocess engineering as a career. You may be involved with producing hardier crops, better foods, and healthier animals. You may also be involved with development of vaccines, biopharmaceuticals, new treatments, and faster diagnosis. Perhaps you are interested in developing alternatives to fossil-based fuels for cleaner air, water, and soil. A career in bioprocess engineering contributes to serving society's needs in agriculture, biofuels, biomanufacturing, human health, regenerative medicines, bionanotechnology, vaccines, and biotherapeutics.
Other factors you may consider are job salaries and career stability. In North Carolina, the average salary in the industry is $81,786 in 2012. To put that into perspective, the average state private sector wage was $43,028. Recent ECU graduates in bioprocess engineering have received starting offers in the range of $58,500 to $78,000. (Note: it takes some years of experience to reach and exceed the average salary.) Most of these competitive job offers and multiple offers to students happen well before graduation. In terms of stability in the biotechnology industry, consider the industry has weathered two recessions from 2001 to 2012 and still has grown 30.9%. This is a growth industry with many opportunities for long-lasting and enriching careers.