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At a crossroads in your career? Whether you pursue biomedical or mechanical engineering, you’ll be entering a rewarding career field. All that’s left is to decide your next step.  

Admittedly, we’re a little biased when it comes to this topic: The University of Texas at Austin offers a 100% online Master of Science in Mechanical Engineering. We do, however, want to provide a clear idea of what these two engineering branches are and how they overlap, making it easier to choose the career path that’s right for you.  

What Is Biomedical Engineering? 

Biomedical engineering is an interdisciplinary field that combines engineering and science to solve problems related to human health. Applying their problem-solving skills, biomedical engineers design software and develop medical devices and diagnostic machines.  

A team of researchers funded by the NIH (National Institutes of Health) recently developed a wearable ultrasound patch the size of a postage stamp that has the potential to detect heart disease in its early stages and save countless lives. More familiar medical technologies developed by biomedical engineers include ambulatory devices, artificial organs, prosthetic limbs, rehabilitation devices and surgery robots.  

Biomedical Engineers to the Rescue  

We’ve all had nights when we’ve laid motionless in the dark, wishing there was a switch we could hit to fall asleep. Turns out, there is. While earning a Ph.D. in biomedical engineering at UT Austin, Shahab Haghayegh lead the development of a mattress that uses a heating and cooling system to trigger sleep. Specifically, the mattress warms the cervical spine, telling the body to increase blood flow to the hands and feet, thus lowering the body’s core temperature and inducing sleep. The team has a patent for the technology and hopes to commercialize it.  

What Is Mechanical Engineering?  

Mechanical engineering is one of the oldest, broadest engineering disciplines. If it moves, a mechanical engineer probably had a hand in making it. At the very least, they were involved in the manufacturing process. We’re not going to try to list every innovation, but the engine powering your car, the refrigerator storing your meals and the conveyer carrying your next Amazon package were all designed by mechanical engineers.  

Mechanical Engineers in Action 

UT Austin has a history of innovating 3D printing. Joseph Beaman, Sc.D., a professor at the Cockrell School of Engineering, co-invented selective laser sintering (SLS): one of the earliest forms of 3D printing.  

Now, Texas Engineers have been awarded a $3 million grant to tackle one of the most troublesome problems with 3D printing. “As printing size gets smaller, printing rate goes down, and what we want to do is break that tradeoff,” said Project Lead and Associate Professor Michael Cullinan, Ph.D. He and his team are working on a new nanoscale 3D printing technique that uses holograms to make complex structures composed of multiple materials without sacrificing speed. The team hopes this technology can improve the efficiency of water filtration membranes critical for cleaning water for agriculture, drinking and energy production.  

How Biomedical and Mechanical Engineering Overlap 

Engineers, regardless of their specialization, work to make the world a better, safer place. As our aging population grows, so too will the need for biomedical engineers who can develop artificial organs and limbs, such as hip prostheses. Mechanical engineers can also save lives, though perhaps less directly than their biomedical counterparts. Mechanical engineers will be needed to develop new technologies to help solve impending crises — electric cars that produce zero greenhouse gas emissions, for instance.  

Professionals in either profession must also master engineering principles, although biomechanical engineers are also experts in chemistry and biology. Mechanical science is an essential component of either discipline — and all branches of engineering, for that matter. Thermodynamics, heat transfer and material properties are just some of the subjects engineers must be familiar with. Consequently, it’s not uncommon for mechanical engineers to dabble in the field of bioengineering. Many of the systems of the human body are mechanical, composed of biological joints, pumps, and supports, any of which can fail under stress. Mechanical engineers are needed to ensure medical devices, particularly prosthetic limbs, can withstand the rigors of everyday life.  

All engineers must also have problem-solving skills. We’re talking about the out-of-the-box thinking that the best engineers are known for. However, it’s important to remember that most engineers work on interdisciplinary teams. Biomedical engineers routinely work with medical professionals, for example, and mechanical engineers often collaborate with architects. Communication, teamwork and emotional intelligence are some of the must-have soft skills shared by professionals in both disciplines.  

Choose a Career in Mechanical Engineering 

We hope we’ve given you a better understanding of how these two disciplines overlap. Truthfully, you can’t go wrong with either career path, but you do have to choose one. If you want to apply your engineering skills to solve some of the most pressing problems of our time, we recommend our 100% online master’s degree in mechanical engineering.  

Master Engineering Topics 

UT Austin’s Executive MS in Mechanical Engineering program explores a wide range of mechanical engineering topics, including applied thermodynamics, fluid mechanics and heat transfer. Courses are taught by the same faculty members who teach on campus, all of whom are experts in their respective fields. 

Study on Your Terms 

Entirely online and asynchronous, our program fits your schedule. Study mechanical engineering after work or over the weekend from anywhere with a Wi-Fi connection. Complete coursework at your own pace, whether you prefer to rewatch recorded lectures or get a head start on an upcoming course module.  

UT Austin’s Cockrell School is a global leader in engineering education. Apply to our Executive MS in Mechanical Engineering program and earn your degree from a university advancing society, one world-changing engineering solution at a time.  


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