S2-CDISC1-1 - Building a bioreactor: truly multidisciplinary bioengineering teaching

1. Innovative Practice Work In Progress
Adam Funnell1 , Claire Johnson1, Jonathan Fullwood1, Krys Bangert1
1 Multidisciplinary Engineering Education, University of Sheffield, UK

We present an ambitious project for an entire cohort of undergraduate bioengineering students to build miniature electronically controlled photo-bioreactors from a custom designed kit of parts. The students must work with a culture of the alga Dunaliella salina CCAP 19/30 to determine optimum growth conditions, and then measure the output products after growing the alga in their own photo-bioreactor.

This project bridges the gap between the fundamental science and engineering taught in traditional modules, skills development and experiential lab practicals, and fully independent engineering design-and-build projects. Bioengineers require a vast array of practical skills, from chemical handling and biological analysis to electronics and coding. In the first years of an undergraduate bioengineering degree, students are exposed to basic knowledge and practical techniques in an array of disciplines. However, when attempting to integrate their skills into an independent project later in their degree programme, students can struggle to make links between the wide-ranging topics, and to use their practical skills appropriately.

Multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary working capabilities are regarded as key skills for engineering students to acquire, and this is particularly true in bioengineering. Within this single practical module, electronics, programming, internet of things (IoT), chemistry and biological product growth measurement are all linked together in realistic context. Particular focus is made on constructive developmental alignment from the content of prior modules in both electronics and biotechnology, while providing clear signposts to techniques that will be useful for future project work.

This wide-ranging practical course requires a truly multidisciplinary teaching team, and the advantages and disadvantages of having a dedicated academic department to teach practical skills across disciplines are described. In addition, the challenges in constructing a practical module suitable forĀ an entire cohort to participate simultaneously are discussed.