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Design Versus Research; Abet Requirements For Design And Why Research Cannot Substitute For Design

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2006 Annual Conference & Exposition


Chicago, Illinois

Publication Date

June 18, 2006

Start Date

June 18, 2006

End Date

June 21, 2006



Conference Session

Design in the BME Curriculum and ABET Assessment

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Page Numbers

11.412.1 - 11.412.10



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Paper Authors


John D. Gassert Milwaukee School of Engineering

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John D. Gassert, Ph.D., P.E., is currently a Professor and Biomedical Engineering Program Director at Milwaukee School of Engineering. He received his Ph.D. in Biomedical Engineering in 1995 from Marquette University and his BS and MS degrees in Electrical Engineering in 1971 and 1974 also from Marquette University. Gassert is a member of BMES and the Accreditation Activities Committee of the BMES, a Senior Member of the IEEE, an ABET EAC program evaluator for Biomedical Engineering, and a member of the NSPE. He has developed and taught courses at both the graduate and undergraduate level in Biomedical Engineering, Medical Informatics, Perfusion, Electrical Engineering, Computer Engineering, and Electrical Engineering Technology. Prior to arriving at MSOE, Gassert spent seventeen years in industry in positions as a design engineer, a clinical engineer and a consultant.

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John Denis Enderle University of Connecticut

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John D. Enderle, Ph.D. Received the B.S., M.E., and Ph.D. degrees in biomedical engineering, and M.E. degree in electrical engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, New York, in 1975, 1977, 1980, and 1978, respectively. He is the program director of biomedical engineering at the University of Connecticut. Dr. Enderle is a Fellow of the IEEE, BMES and AIMBE, and a Teaching Fellow at UConn. He is also an ABET Engineering Commission Member for the Biomedical Engineering Society.

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Amy Lerner University of Rochester


Samantha Jacques

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Samantha J. Richerson received her undergraduate degree in Biomedical Engineering from the Milwaukee School of Engineering(MSOE) in 2000 and her PhD in Biomedical Engineering from Louisiana Tech University in 2003. She taught for two years at Bucknell University before returning to her Alma Mater MSOE in 2005. She sits on the editorial board for the Biomedical Engineering Online Journal, is a member of BMES, IEEE, ASEE, and the Society for Neuroscience and chairs the recruitment committee for Women at MSOE. She concentrates her research on modeling neural signals, the effects of diabetes on balance in elder adults, and improving undergraduate education in Biomedical Engineering.

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Peter Katona The Whitaker Foundation

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract


The ABET Criteria for Accrediting Engineering Programs specifically requires design in criterion three and criterion four. These requirements stem from a fundamental need for engineers to understand and carry out the design process and the requirements are unlikely to change in the foreseeable future. ABET criteria do not allow substitution of research for design in an engineering program. What is the difference between research projects and design projects and why doesn’t ABET allow the substitution? The objective of this paper is to review the rationale for the design requirement in the ABET criteria; review the differences between design and research; and to propose questions that can be used to differentiate between a research project and a design project in an engineering curriculum.


Can the difference between design and research be quantifiably defined? At what point does research become design or design become research? Addressing these questions is much like examining a fine work of art. Examine a painting by a master artist. Look at the white of a lily such as those found in the painting “Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose,” by John Singer Sargent 1. Can you truly find anything that is just black or white? The fact is there are many colors in the blacks and whites and the beauty is truly in the eye of the beholder. As with art, design is often in the eye of the evaluator. If the difference were black or white, the job an engineering faculty member would be easy. A student understands design or doesn’t. There would be no measuring the degrees of understanding. However, as professionals we have learned judging a student’s ability to design is far more like judging shades of gray. This paper explores many of the shades of gray with respect to the differences between design and research and proposes questions that can aid judging between a “major design experience” and an academic research project.

The ability to design is one of the measures that helps define if a graduate is truly prepared to practice engineering. It is an ability defined by the engineering profession as a “black or white” skill needed by every graduate of an engineering program. A graduate must show that he or she has had “a major design experience based on the knowledge and skills acquired in earlier course work and incorporating appropriate engineering standards and multiple realistic constraints.” 2 However, it is at this point that engineering educators begin to illustrate the many colors of the engineering education art.

All engineering curricula, including biomedical engineering, are required to include design as part of a student’s education. This requirement is supported by the definition of an engineer as one who is versed in the practice of engineering and the definition of engineering as the art of designing.3,4 It is required by ABET, Inc. in its engineering accreditation criteria three and four. Criterion three requires that each program “demonstrate that their students attain an ability to design a system, component, or process to meet desired needs within realistic constraints such as economic,

Gassert, J. D., & Enderle, J. D., & Lerner, A., & Jacques, S., & Katona, P. (2006, June), Design Versus Research; Abet Requirements For Design And Why Research Cannot Substitute For Design Paper presented at 2006 Annual Conference & Exposition, Chicago, Illinois. 10.18260/1-2--663

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