Solving Problems With a Little Bit of Everything

Collaboration has always been at the heart of biomedical engineering. But as experts from many fields get together, something new is emerging.

 |  Transcript [PDF]

When biomedical engineers talk about their field, one of the first things they describe is often how it brings out so many diverse perspectives. In particular, the UBC School of Biomedical Engineering (SBME) is the first inter-faculty school at the University of British Columbia, acting as a hub between experts from many fields. But amidst all of the fascinating collaborations, something entirely new is also emerging.

“Biomedical engineering is a great catalyst for bringing together different disciplines and different perspectives,” says SBME Director Peter Zandstra.

“But I think one of the things that’s also very exciting about biomedical engineering is it’s also emerging as an independent discipline in and of itself, where people are able to both work with others to solve problems, but actually start to think about what are the important ones to solve, and have the skills and knowledge base to start solving them as leaders of those teams.”

In fact, it’s inspiring a new group of researchers precisely because they can wear many hats themselves, being able to dive into more than one area in their careers.

“When I learned about biomedical engineering I was like, wow, this is perfect,” says Nadine Truter, graduate student at SBME.

“Because I’m really interested in the human body and how it works, and also why it doesn’t work. And then also I’m really interested in like math and problem solving and coming up with solutions.”

All the while, this emerging field is also generating exciting new technologies. These create opportunities that feed back into research.

“I think the coolest thing right now is the fact that we have all of these old problems that we have been studying for decades, and now we have new technologies that can look at them in a whole new way,” says Laura Stankiewicz, PhD student at SBME.

“So for example, in my research I’m studying a human organ, whereas before we can only look at this problem in mice, and as we all know humans are not large mice. And using these new technologies, we can get so much data from a human sample that we can really feel like we’re using that sample for a good purpose.”

Even as leadership and cross-disciplinary thinking grows, collaboration is still at the heart of this diverse field.

“What I love about the (UBC) School of Biomedical Engineering is that it really fosters this community where interdisciplinary, diverse thinkers can meet and exchange expertise — not really work in silos and, you know, communicate via email, but really like meet head to head and exchange ideas in a way that you can’t always get,” says Nika Shakiba, assistant professor at SBME.

“I think that’s the beauty of biomedical engineering. That’s always drawn me here.”

Many researchers love the thrill of a challenge, and being able to draw from so many areas allows biomedical engineers to get pulled in new directions all the time.

“The interface between healthcare and medicine, and even engineering and computer science, these are all different things that I have to work with throughout my research. And what’s really exciting about that is that you start to get new perspectives into what things are actually working,” says Alexi Michael, master’s student at SBME.

“I never really had a background in computer science or programming or anything like that. It really gave me the opportunity to learn these new things. So I find that every different class that I had to go to, I learned something new. I met someone who had experience in a new field that I didn’t know about. I got to just experience and learn a lot of cool new things.”

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