Engineers don’t just work on big infrastructure – their problem-solving skills can be applied to biology and medicine as well
Biomedical engineering is a space where physics, biology and technology collide to enable better health and medicine. It was this crossover of disciplines that drew Melissa Knothe Tate, Biomedical Engineering Professor at UNSW, to the field. “I just loved learning about the mechanics of life,” she says.
Biomedical engineers like Melissa are always thinking about how their research will eventually reach the patient. “A discovery is going to be most impactful if we can help improve people’s lives,” she says.
This is something Melissa is currently trying to do currently by developing a woven textile that emulates tissues in the human body, as an alternative to the harsh surgical meshes currently used. “We’re making implants from these novel textiles to match the mechanics of body tissues,” she adds.
And in a perfect example of the diverse nature of biomedical engineering, Melissa is also working with car companies to design seatbelts using the same woven textiles. “It’s gone from basic physics, imaging and biology, to now sportswear, lingerie and transport companies showing interest in the technology!” – Jo Khan
What do biomedical engineers do?
They apply their problem-solving skills to design and build devices and equipment used in healthcare and medicine.
Why is biomedical engineering important?
Because it improves and even saves lives! Biomedical engineers have brought us everything from bionic limbs and organs to more effective and efficient methods of drug delivery. And as technology advances, the potential to make a difference grows too.
Where do they work?
Australia has been a hotbed of medical innovation, home to the likes of Cochlear, which developed the famous hearing implant device that has restored hearing to millions, and ResMed, which was founded in Australia and develops sleep apnea devices.
According to Engineers Australia, in addition to these big players, there are at least 500 other small businesses and start-ups in the biomedical sector, with demand only set to increase as our population ages and healthcare needs increase.
How much are they paid?
According to payscale.com, the annual salary of a biomedical engineer can range from $50K to $87K.
How can I become a biomedical engineer?
Anyone interested in a career as an engineer should stick with maths and physics in high school, and biology also makes sense if your interest is in health and medicine.
There are also postgraduate options to specialise, like the University of Melbourne’s Master of Engineering (Biomedical).
Meet real-life biomedical engineers and engineering students
- Lina Abd Rahim is developing a portable breathalyser for detecting lung cancer.
- Louise Samios was inspired by her personal experiences with medical technology and works at a company helping people with physical disabilities.
- Sam Darvishi spent years deciding between medicine and engineering before his “lightbulb moment” discovery.
- Gregg Suaning is a professor at the University of Sydney who has lived and breathed medical technology for more than two decades.