Research in academia and industry has begun to successfully integrate the life sciences and physical sciences and engineering. Undergraduate curricula must likewise evolve to promote similar interactions to adequately prepare students for professional careers at the interface of science and engineering. Consequently, faculty in the Departments of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (BMB) and Chemical Engineering (ChE) at UMass-Amherst have been collaborating in curriculum development over the past several years in order for undergraduates in these majors to benefit from cross-fertilization amongst these disciplines. Successes to-date include expansion of the chemical engineering curriculum to include courses in biochemistry and cell and molecular biology and addition of new lecture courses in biochemical engineering and systems biology that service students from chemical engineering, biochemistry and chemistry.
Most recently, we have extended our interdisciplinary curricular efforts in the development of a novel laboratory course in Biotechnology Process Engineering, open to both life sciences and chemical engineering majors at UMass-Amherst. This course is truly interdisciplinary and comprehensively focuses on the laboratory skills necessary to bring a product to the marketplace in the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries. Students work in interdisciplinary teams (two chemical engineers and two life scientists) to design a process to supply a high-value product. Molecular biology tools are used to engineer cells lines to express the protein of interest; cells are then cultivated in bioreactors with designed process strategies; the protein product is recovered from the fermentation broth and purified using a wide range of techniques including filtration and chromatography; and the final protein product is characterized in terms of protein quality and function. State-of-the-art techniques using high-throughput technologies are integrated throughout the course along with quantitation and statistical analyses. This is the first course at UMass Amherst designed specifically for undergraduates to gain laboratory experience at the important interface of engineering and the life sciences and we will focus this talk on course structure, design and implementation.