Biotechnical Engineering

Biotechnical Engineering

This course is typically the 3rd course a student will take in the PLTW sequence at New Trier. Students will take the basic engineering skills and knowledge they have acquired from their earlier courses and apply them to higher level and more complex problems, all focused in the biotechnical engineering field. A key aspect is the increased level of independence students are expected to operate at during the numerous project-based problem-solving activities.

The biotechnical engineering field is one of the newest engineering fields and is moving very fast. The course is designed to increase student's awareness of important past developments in the field, as well as important new things that are showing up in the news every day, but with a focus on four primary areas: biofuels, bioremediation, genetic engineering, and biomedical engineering.


For a variety of reasons society must move away from fossil fuels as its primary energy source. Biofuels are being researched heavily as one source of alternate and renewable energy. Students explore biofuels primarily through projects, such as one in which they research, design, and "build" (through 3D printing) a scale model of a corn to ethanol production facility, or one in which they research, design, build and race a "vehicle" powered by carbon dioxide produced by yeast fermentation.


An unfortunate side-effect of our industrial society is the production of toxic waste. Too often this waste has been introduced to the environment either accidentally (e.g. oil spills) or without understanding the potential hazards (e.g. poor industrial process control or poor waste disposal practices). The use of biological processes to clean up these hazardous waste situations is a current important area of investigation. These biological processes can provide unique and important advantages that other processes cannot. Students will explore some of these approaches to bioremediation through projects such as investigating the effectiveness of microbes to clean up oil spills.

Genetic Engineering

Modifying (i.e. engineering) the genetic code of organisms to address a broad array of problems in today's world has been an extremely fast-advancing area of research over the past couple of decades. Genetic engineering is affecting an increasingly larger part of the economy as well as larger parts of people's lives. Students will explore the field of genetic engineering through a hands-on project in which they actually genetically modify E. coli bacteria to exhibit a specific trait. They follow this project with another where they must utilize this knowledge to research, design, and develop a process to genetically modify some other organism to exhibit a trait which will solve some societal problem.

Biomedical Engineering

Our increasingly complex and technology focused medical practices are being driven by the combination of biological and engineering knowledge and technology. From sophisticated and more accurate diagnostic techniques and instrumentation, to more effective and novel treatments, the combination of biology and engineering is having a tremendous impact on the medical field. Students will explore areas such as diagnostic equipment (e.g. MRI, CAT Scan), 3D printing of tissue and organs, surgical instrumentation, and prosthetics. Project possibilities include the research, design, and building (through 3D printing) of surgical instruments or simple prosthetic devices.