Neural Engineering Undergraduate Major at UIUC

Written By: Claire Rowley

In today’s world, novel thinking is required to provide new answers to old questions about the world. The upcoming neural engineering undergraduate degree hopes to provide this ability to students, especially for solving challenges in biotechnology and neuroscience with the application of engineering and math. Under review, this major was put into production by Dr. Brad Sutton and Dr. Andrew Smith, along with other neuroscience-focused faculty in Bioengineering and other related disciplines. Both their knowledge and backgrounds comprehensively reflect the understandings of this course path.

Dr. Brad Sutton received a B.S in general engineering from the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign before going on to receive a master’s in Biomedical and Electrical Engineering and then a Ph.D. in Biomedical Engineering. He then returned to UIUC and currently works as a researcher, faculty member, and technical director of the Biomedical Imaging Center (BIC) at Beckman Institute. His research focuses on imaging and how the physical structure of the brain relates to function; Carle Hospital has partnered with BIC to introduce a 7 Tesla MRI machine (more than twice the strength of typical MRI machines) to further this research. He encourages students to use engineering applications to understand the physiology of the brain.

Dr. Andrew Smith received a B.S in chemistry and a Ph.D. in bioengineering from the Georgia Institute of Technology. His research currently focuses on imaging and functions of the brain at a molecular scale. One of the goals of his lab is to map molecules and cells within tissue to get a better understanding of their micro functions, especially in diseases. Optical clearing of tissue and single-molecule imaging with microscopy are a few technologies they use to study this. The lab also makes molecular probes to pinpoint the identity of these cells.

Both Dr. Smith and Dr. Sutton’s knowledge and backgrounds combined to provide a great base for the production of a new neural engineering undergraduate degree that is currently under review at UIUC. The inspiration to create this major came from the desire to allow students to pursue a track that is a specific integration of neuroscience and engineering. This gives students an opportunity to use math and engineering applications to solve challenges in neuroscience. The course will include a curriculum from machine learning, cell and tissue engineering, statistics, and life science teachings to give students a state-of-the-art understanding of how the brain functions.

People who may want to take courses in this degree are students ready to work in engineering or neurotech applications after undergrad or people wanting to go to grad school to further research in specific functions. This degree will provide a strong foundation in math, life sciences, and engineering. Neural engineering and related studies is a revolutionary field that has a great need for students with this background. Research after graduating has applications to studying brain diseases such as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's, healing injuries, and understanding the brain at a deeper level in all functions. Those interested in learning more about the research mentioned or the neural engineering major may reach out to Dr. Sutton or Dr. Smith.