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Using The Analogical Systems Approach To Teaching Biological Engineering

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1997 Annual Conference


Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Publication Date

June 15, 1997

Start Date

June 15, 1997

End Date

June 18, 1997



Page Count


Page Numbers

2.484.1 - 2.484.4



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Arthur T. Johnson

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

Session 2308

Using the Analogical Systems Approach to Teaching Biological Engineering

Arthur T. Johnson Biological Resources Engineering University of Maryland College Park, MD 20742

What is it that distinguishes biological engineering from other branches of engineering? When asking this question about any engineering field, a number of types of responses can be returned. Some engineering fields are distinguished by particular applications, such as agriculture or mining. Such fields tend not to have a distinguishing knowledge base. Other engineering fields are based on particular sciences, such as mechanics or electricity. These fields have usually developed consistent sets of technological methods appropriate to their fields, for example applied mathematics in electrical engineering and unit operations in chemical engineering. Such methods allow the study of the subject matter in rather generic form to give the ability to apply the imparted engineering knowledge to applications not completely known beforehand.

If biological engineering is to successfully evolve into a branch of engineering dealing with the entire field of biology, with all its diversity, methods must also be developed to characterize biological systems in generic terms. These methods should emphasize the similarities among diverse biological organisms and systems. For example, biological systems metabolize substrates, move, reproduce, require space, respond to external stimuli, have positive entropy, and so on. Biological engineers taught to expect these common characteristics will be able to deal with biological systems on familiar terms, no matter what the specific application. This is the analogical systems approach that possibly could become the unique method in biological engineering.

In the report by Garrett et al. (1992), one particular core course exemplified this approach. The course entitled "Biosystems Responses to Environmental Stimuli" is intended to be a black-box engineering study of the quintessential aspects of biological systems. To be successful, this course should not be taught considering specific biological systems (for example: humans, animals, plants, microbes, and others). Rather, the course should teach common aspects of locomotion, metabolism, toxicity, temperature, etc. Specific examples can show how particular species conform or not to the general expectations given for biological systems.

To a lesser extent, control in biological systems, and engineering properties of biological systems can also follow the analogical systems approach. In control, biological organisms usually display feedback techniques during learning, open-loop or feed forward techniques for habitual operations, and optimization during times of stress. A controls course given to biological engineers should stress these common approaches used by diverse biological organisms. Likewise, properties should be taught from a general viewpoint, rather than dwell particularly on many specific cases.

Johnson, A. T. (1997, June), Using The Analogical Systems Approach To Teaching Biological Engineering Paper presented at 1997 Annual Conference, Milwaukee, Wisconsin. 10.18260/1-2--6887

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