Humans seem to understand most of the fundamental laws of the universe: that matter and energy can be neither created nor destroyed; that chaos always increases; and that there are several constants to be aware of, including absolute zero, the speed of light, and others. Humans are also more aware than ever of truths on Earth, and we have largely teased out answers to age-old mysteries, such as how we got here and how our bodies work. It seems there are precious few major discoveries left to make – which is why the future is not what will be discovered but the approaches we take to solve problems with our newfound knowledge.
Physics, chemistry, biology – we may continue to study these classic sciences, but true progress lies in interdisciplinary efforts, such as biomedical engineering. Bioengineers use the tools, technologies, and techniques from a range of fields to solve pressing problems, and in doing so, they exemplify the emerging era of antedisciplinary science.
The Importance of Bioengineers
Medical doctors gain most of the admiration for saving lives, but in truth, physicians would hardly be more competent than their 18th-century counterparts without bioengineers. Though knowledge of anatomy and biology has improved, the most notable change between medical practices then and now is the equipment used to diagnose and treat patients. Today, doctors are equipped with advanced machines and software to precisely identify medical issues and resolve them safely and quickly. Without those machines, medicine would rely even more heavily on guesswork, and patient outcomes would not be as clear.
Bioengineers are responsible for observing problems in the medical process, designing devices to assuage those problems, and maintaining technology as necessary. Biomedical engineering combines the knowledge and techniques of dozens of fields and applies them to unequivocally beneficial aims: saving and improving lives. For example, some of the most familiar biomedical engineering devices are as follows:
- X-ray machine. Combining the fields of physics, electric engineering, photography, and anatomy, bioengineers of the early 20th century developed a machine that allows doctors to detect abnormalities in internal organs without surgery.
- Computed tomography. Building on X-ray tech, bioengineers developed computed tomography (CT) scanning, which uses information from X-ray transmissions to digitally reconstruct patients in slices.
- Heart-lung machine. Bioengineers created a machine that serves as temporary heart and lungs to patients who require surgery on their cardiovascular system. Though blood does not flow through the device, it is crucial for lowering mortality rates of heart disease, which already claims a sizeable portion of the population.
- Pacemakers. Another heart-related breakthrough, these devices help the heart maintain a steady rhythm, keeping patients alive, and active for longer than they otherwise could.
- Electrosurgical unit. Bioengineers created an electrical device that effectively replaces many traditional surgical tools. ESUs can cut, coagulate, desiccate, and fulgurate tissue, making them invaluable in various procedures, especially within small spaces like the eye.
The human body is complex, and the healthcare industry has an unending need for biomedical engineers. As a result, many online biomedical engineering degree programs are becoming available to students interested in contributing to this influential field. Because different aspects of biomedical engineering require different interdisciplinary skills, most bioengineers specialize relatively early in their careers. Some of those specializations include:
- Bioinstrumentation: the development of devices to diagnose and treat disease with the application of electronics and measurement techniques
- Biomaterials: cultivating living tissues and artificial materials for implantation
- Clinical engineering: developing and maintaining computer databases for medical instruments and equipment records
- Rehabilitation engineering: developing and fitting prostheses, environmental modifications, and assistive technology to improve patients’ quality of life
- Medical imaging: applying principles of physical phenomena (like radiation) to data processing to generate an image
The Future of Bioengineering
Biomedical engineers continue to push the boundaries of medical science, developing newer and better methods for salvaging human life. While biologists focus on discovering the origins and behaviors of new diseases, bioengineers will be creating new interventions to prevent any disease’s spread. While surgeons hack and slash at patients on the operating table, bioengineers will be developing machine-learning devices that make traditional open surgery obsolete. While physicists use massive equipment to study the stars, bioengineers will be minimizing the same technologies to address life-threatening issues at a microscopic level. The future of biomedical engineers is bright because bioengineers are better than all other professionals at mixing and matching knowledge and skills from various disciplines to benefit the greater good.