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Scenes from The University of Rhode Island

URI chemical engineering program expands to meet needs of pharmaceutical, biotechnology industries

Media Contact: Todd McLeish, 401-874-7892

KINGSTON, R.I. -- June 16, 2005 -- In response to the significant growth of the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries in recent years and advances in molecular biology, the University of Rhode Island’s Department of Chemical Engineering has expanded its curriculum to include a “biology track” for its students.

“While chemists are usually the ones who synthesize drugs, it’s chemical engineers who process and mass produce the drugs,” explained Arijit Bose, URI professor of chemical engineering and chair of the department. “By giving our students a background in biology, we’ll be producing students with a competitive advantage for these high-paying and important jobs.”

According to the department’s website, “the application of the chemical engineering paradigm to biology will enable graduates to develop new molecular biology tools; drug delivery systems; artificial skin, organs and tissues; sensors and alternative fuels; and integrate new bio-products into existing materials.” In addition, students who graduate from the program will be well prepared to enter medical school.

“Other universities who have tried this saw a massive increase in their enrollment,” Bose said. “We’ve already heard from several of our current students who are interested in it.”

The new curriculum was approved by URI’s Faculty Senate last spring. It will require students enrolled in the program to take a sequence of five biochemistry and molecular biology courses in addition to their engineering coursework. The department expects to enroll a minimum of 10 students per year in the program by attracting students interested in chemistry, engineering and pharmacy.

Thanks to available funds from the pharmaceutical industry and the National Institutes of Health, Bose said there are a great many opportunities for research in the field. NIH, in particular, offers biotechnology grants that require collaboration between engineering and biology researchers. The URI program has a faculty position available that it hopes to fill with an engineer who has a biology orientation.

“The interface between biology and engineering is a growth area that we’re hoping to take advantage of,” said Bose.

Pictured above, Chemical Engineering Professor Mercedes Rivero-Hudec in an engineering lab.