University Senate approves IME PhD program, enrollment to begin Fall 2014

The University of Chicago will soon offer an engineering PhD for the first time, emphasizing the development of solutions to technological problems of society based on molecular-level science.

“Traditional engineering schools divide engineering into disciplines; IME combines disciplines into a new approach to engineering research and education,” said Matthew Tirrell, the Pritzker Director of the Institute for Molecular Engineering.

The degree was approved for the Institute for Molecular Engineering at the May meeting of the Council of the University Senate. The institute will begin accepting applications this autumn. The first directly admitted class will enroll in the 2014 fall quarter and will be made up of students with diverse academic backgrounds, including all fields of physical, biological, and computational sciences.

A new approach to curricula

IME is developing an innovative curriculum that would incorporate elements of engineering education complementary to the strong existing science curriculums in UChicago sister divisions. Students are expected to fulfill a set of graduate course requirements including three core courses, four in-depth courses in their research field of choice, and two broad electives.

The courses are selected in conjunction with a student’s faculty advisor and can be classes within IME, existing classes in sister departments, or classes specifically developed for IME students. The broad electives provide students with the opportunity to acquire skills in leadership, communication, technology development, and product design.

The hallmark of IME’s PhD program is a highly customized curriculum tailored to each individual student’s needs and inspirations. In addition, there are a wide variety of opportunities for students to engage in teaching.

An interdisciplinary approach

“Our educational objective is to provide our graduate students with interdisciplinary expertise and skill sets that would enable them to tackle big, technological challenges facing society in areas such as health care, energy, and water resource management and information technology,” Tirrell said.

As the institute works in a highly interdisciplinary environment, there are many opportunities to work with multiple faculty members within the institute and with faculty in other partner institutes in the University of Chicago and Argonne National Laboratory as well as industrial partners if applicable.

The institute currently comprises four faculty members. Tirrell expects the faculty to achieve a target size of 25 over the next decade. Once at full strength, the faculty could collectively facilitate between 180 and 240 PhD students.

“We will recruit doctoral students from all science and engineering fields. We are looking for people who are excited and passionate about developing technological solutions with high societal impacts,” Tirrell said.

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