by Meredith Dault
Scientists and engineers have been doing biomedical research at Queen's for years - they just haven't always sold it that way to the rest of the world. "We have a long-standing history in biomedical research since the mid-1980s," explains Steve Waldman, Associate Professor and Canada Research Chair with both the department of Chemical Engineering and the department of Mechanical and Materials Engineering at Queen's. "We were lamenting that we have been losing students to other schools - because although we engage in biomedical engineering research, it hasn't been marketed that way. So we did our homework. We started looking around at what kind of work we were doing here in mechanical, chemical and electrical engineering."
And in September of 2009, a brand new, collaborative program in biomedical engineering was born. Offering both M.A.Sc and Ph.D streams, the new program takes an interdisciplinary approach to research, linking graduate programs in chemical, electrical and mechanical engineering. A growing field, biomedical engineering -- essentially the bringing together of engineering principals with biological systems -- integrates concepts from chemistry, mechanics, biochemistry, cell biology and physiology, among other disciplines. Some examples of research in this field include tissue engineering of cartilage and vascular grafts, the development of polymer biomaterials for implantable drug delivery devices, development of joint replacements and prosthetics, robotics and computer vision.
Students in the biomedical engineering program come from a variety of backgrounds, but must be enrolled in one of the three ‘home' engineering departments and come together for classes such as ‘Topics in Biomedical Engineering,' where they learn research skills - how to design experiments, how to interpret data, how to write grants, etc.. "What we are doing is providing an interdisciplinary and collaborative style of learning," explains Dr. Waldman. He says the program has already proved enormously popular with students. "We've had almost double the number of students from what we expected in our first year. Our CBME 801 course (Topics in Biomedical Engineering) while taken by all of our students, has also students enrolled from outside of the program!"
Students in the biomedical engineering program are also involved in research at the university's Human Mobility Research Centre in partnership with Kingston General Hospital, where they work closely with professors whose fields of study include: biomechanics and prosthetics, biomaterials, regenerative medicine and medical imaging. Other research takes place at Hotel Dieu Hospital and within the School of Kinesiology and Health Studies at Queen's.
Professor Waldman says most of the programs graduates will stay in academia or will carry-on to jobs in Research and Development with biotechnology companies - both pharmaceutical companies and biomedical companies who make devices such as joint replacements, heart valves and pacemakers. "It's rare nowadays to see people in these types of industries with just an undergraduate degree," he explains.