Two biochemical engineers adjust fittings on a complex machine in a lab

A biochemical engineer could...


Work on a new kind of fertilizer that will improve a farmer's crop yield. A carrot pulled from the ground Figure out how to grow large batches of mammalian cells for use in cancer-drug testing. Microscopic image of cells in a purple culture
Design the manufacturing equipment needed to convert raw materials into everyday products. A bottling machine in an assembly line Discover a method for improving a well-known cold medicine. A spoon in front of a child's displeased face
Find out more...

Key Facts & Information

Overview A nice cool yogurt is the perfect snack. It comes in a variety of delicious flavors like peach, chocolate, and cherry and contains calcium, vitamins, and minerals that are good for you. Yogurt also contains live cultures that your body needs to maintain good health. How did all of those good things get into your yogurt? The answer is that a biochemical engineer helped to develop a recipe to make that yogurt a perfect snack for you. So many of the products that we use every day, from medicine and fertilizer to packaged foods, result from the hard work of a biochemical engineer. A biochemical engineer takes a recipe that has been formulated by a biologist or a chemist in the laboratory and develops it into a large-scale manufacturing process. Biochemical engineers design the manufacturing equipment that is required to convert raw materials into the products that you have at home, like cold tablets and packaged foods. If you are interested in applying your problem-solving skills to improving human lives, then you should definitely investigate this career.
Key Requirements Excellent problem-solving skills, ability to work well on teams, curiosity, good laboratory and mechanical skills
Minimum Degree Bachelor's degree
Subjects to Study in High School Physics, chemistry, biology, algebra, geometry, calculus
Median Salary
Biochemical Engineer
  $97,300
U.S. Mean Annual Wage
  $49,630
Min Wage
  $15,080
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024) More Slowly than Average (3% to 6%) In Demand!
Interview
  • In this interview Raquel Widrig, an associate engineer with Genentech, discusses her career history and the projects she works on now.
  • In this video interview Victoria Boyle talks about the biochemical engineering curriculum at her college.
Related Occupations
Source: O*Net

Training, Other Qualifications

A bachelor's degree in biochemical or chemical engineering is required for almost all entry-level biochemical engineering jobs, but some basic research positions may require a graduate degree. Faculty positions require graduate degrees. Engineers offering their services directly to the public must be licensed. To keep current with rapidly changing technology, continuing education is important for biochemical engineers.

Beginning biochemical engineering graduates usually work under the supervision of experienced biochemical engineers and, in large companies, also may receive formal classroom or seminar-type training. As new engineers gain knowledge and experience, they are assigned more difficult projects with greater independence to develop designs, solve problems, and make decisions. Biochemical engineers may advance to become technical specialists or to supervise a staff or team of engineers and technicians.

Education and Training

A bachelor's degree in biochemical or chemical engineering is required for all entry-level positions. Research and development jobs at industrial laboratories or with the government usually require graduate training, either a master's degree or a PhD. Faculty positions require a PhD. Many experienced engineers obtain graduate degrees in engineering or in business administration to learn new technology and to broaden their education.

Admissions requirements for entry into a biochemical or chemical engineering university program include a solid background in mathematics (algebra, geometry, trigonometry, calculus) and science (biology, chemistry, physics) with courses in English and humanities. Bachelor's degree programs are typically designed to last four years, but many students find that the program takes between four and five years to complete their studies.

Other Qualifications

Biochemical engineers should be creative, inquisitive, analytical, and detail oriented. They should be able to work as part of a team and to communicate well, both orally and in writing. Communication skills are becoming increasingly important as biochemical engineers frequently interact with specialists in a wide range of fields outside engineering.

Nature of the Work

Biochemical engineers act on teams with biologists and chemists to take laboratory processes and ramp them up into large-scale manufacturing. In fact, they are integral to a variety of manufacturing industries, such as food manufacturing and agro-technology. They design the equipment that is used to produce cell cultures of up to thousands of liters. Biochemical engineers grow cell cultures in order to develop natural fuels, improve the efficiency of drugs and pharmaceutical processes, and also develop cures for disease. They formulate the instructions the equipment uses to grow and maintain the cell cultures, and they create the operating specifications used by manufacturing personnel to keep the manufacturing floor running smoothly. Since biochemical engineers work directly on making large volumes of products for human use, they are concerned with manufacturing-plant safety and product safety.

In this video a process development engineer explains why his job is rewarding, exciting, and important to everyone.

Biochemical engineers design and conduct studies to determine the optimal conditions for cell growth, protein production, and virus expression and recovery using a variety of equipment such as centrifuges and bioreactors. The cell cultures produced in bioreactors can also be used for waste treatment. Biochemical engineers apply their engineering problem-solving skills to studying and learning more about the cell cultures they grow. The discoveries they make are often used to make manufacturing a repeatable and efficient process. Chemists and biologists also use this knowledge to improve their understanding of the molecular workings of the cell.

Biochemical engineers work in corporate laboratories and in research laboratories. This career has a wide focus and includes metabolic engineering, enzyme engineering, and tissue engineering.

  • Metabolic engineers use the tools of molecular genetics to optimize the production of specific metabolites and proteins.
  • Enzyme engineers use and design biocatalysts to produce chemicals and biochemicals.
  • Tissue engineers study all aspects of transplanting living cells to combat disease.

Work Environment

Most biochemical engineers work in office buildings, laboratories, or industrial manufacturing plants. Because many biochemical engineers work on the manufacturing floor, they may come in contact with hazardous chemicals and machinery.

Many biochemical engineers work a standard 40-hour week. At times, deadlines or design standards may bring extra pressure to a job, requiring engineers to work longer hours.

On the Job

  • Design or conduct follow-up experimentation, based on generated data, to meet established process objectives.
  • Design or conduct studies to determine optimal conditions for cell growth, protein production, or protein and virus expression and recovery, using chromatography, separation, and filtration equipment, such as centrifuges and bioreactors.
  • Design or direct bench or pilot production experiments to determine the scale of production methods that optimize product yield and minimize production costs.
  • Develop methodologies for transferring procedures or biological processes from laboratories to commercial-scale manufacturing production.
  • Devise scalable recovery, purification, or fermentation processes for producing proteins or other biological substances for human or animal therapeutic use, food production and processing, biofuels, or effluent treatment.
  • Recommend process formulas, instrumentation, or equipment specifications, based on results of bench and pilot experimentation.
  • Review existing manufacturing processes to identify opportunities for yield improvement or reduced process variation.
  • Advise manufacturing staff regarding problems with fermentation, filtration, or other production processes.
  • Collaborate with manufacturing or quality-assurance staff to prepare product specification and safety sheets, standard operating procedures, user manuals, or qualification and validation reports.
  • Confer with research and manufacturing personnel to ensure the compatibility of design and production.
  • Consult with chemists and biologists to develop or evaluate novel technologies.
  • Develop statistical models or simulations of biochemical production, using statistical or modeling software.
  • Direct experimental or developmental activities at contracted laboratories.
  • Lead studies to examine or recommend changes in process sequences and operation protocols.
  • Maintain databases of experiment characteristics and results.
  • Modify and control biological systems to replace, augment, or sustain chemical and mechanical processes.
  • Prepare piping and instrumentation diagrams or other schematics for proposed process improvements, using computer-aided design software.
  • Collaborate in the development or delivery of biochemical manufacturing training materials.
  • Communicate with regulatory authorities regarding licensing or compliance responsibilities, such as good manufacturing practices.
  • Communicate with suppliers regarding the design and specifications of production equipment, instrumentation, or materials.
  • Participate in equipment or process validation activities.
  • Prepare project plans for equipment or facility improvements, including time lines, budgetary estimates, or capital spending requests.
  • Prepare technical reports, data summary documents, or research articles for scientific publication, regulatory submissions, or patent applications.
  • Read current scientific and trade literature to stay abreast of scientific, industrial, or technological advances.

Companies That Hire Biochemical Engineers

Explore what you might do on the job with one of these projects...

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Have you ever heard or read about GMO? GMO stands for genetically modified organisms. Scientists can deliberately modify the DNA of organisms, such as bacteria or plants, to change their properties for a specific purpose. For example, crops can be modified to become more drought- or pest-resistant. Genetic engineering is a very powerful tool in biotechnology that has already found many different applications in agriculture, medicine, and industry. In this project, you will engineer a… Read more
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Can you imagine a glowing loaf of bread? You might not be able to make the whole loaf glow, but you can get baker's yeast to fluoresce! The way to do this is to modify the genetic information of the yeast organism. The technology that is used to do this is called genetic engineering. With genetic engineering, you can insert a fluorescent protein gene from a jellyfish into yeast cells, so they start glowing under blue light! Do this project to see for yourself! Read more
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This is a straightforward project on glucose metabolism in yeast. You will grow yeast under aerobic and anaerobic conditions and measure carbon dioxide output to assess metabolic efficiency. Read more
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Many scientists are currently very excited about CRISPR, as it has the potential to revolutionize gene editing. But what exactly is CRISPR and what does it do? CRISPR is a novel tool in gene editing that allows the modification of genetic DNA at specific target sites in many different organisms. Researchers have high hopes that this technology can, one day, cure genetic diseases, as mutated DNA sequences can easily be corrected. In this project, you will use CRISPR to mutate a DNA sequence… Read more
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When you take medicine, it needs to dissolve in order to be passed into your bloodstream to have an effect. On the other hand, the drug needs to be packed into a small, dense pill to make it easier to swallow. How does the delivery method of a drug change how quickly it enters the bloodstream? Compare different brands of a drug to find out which brands dissolve the quickest. Does the pH of the stomach (which is usually between 1 and 2) matter? Compare coated to uncoated pills: does the coating… Read more
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No one likes shots, so why don't we swallow all our medications? In this science project, you will use a model to explore one challenge behind making medications we can quickly swallow, using insulin (a medication taken by some diabetes patients) as an example. Will your medication be functional after spending time in an environment similar to the stomach? Read more
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Science Fair Project Idea
Are biofuels the wave of the future? People often talk about these plant-derived fuels as a way to someday cut down on our dependency on non-renewable carbon-based fuels, like gasoline. Ethanol (a type of alcohol) is a common biofuel used today. In the United States, ethanol is a common biofuel additive to normal gasoline. In fact, some states mandate that when you fill up your gas tank, 10 percent of the total fuel volume be made of ethanol. Brazil, the world's largest user of ethanol-based… Read more
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Science Fair Project Idea
Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are organisms whose DNA have been manipulated to give them new traits. In genetically modified (GM) food crops traits like resistance to drought or pesticide might be added, or the crop may have been made more nutritious, or the taste may be altered to give you something like the impossible burger. Are there GMOs in your favorite foods? Many countries have implemented or are in the process of implementing GMO labeling on foods, but with a little bit of… Read more
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Science Fair Project Idea
Chlorophyll is a natural pigment found in green plants. It is the primary pigment that absorbs light energy from the sun for photosynthesis. This energy is then used by the plant to synthesize glucose from carbon dioxide and water. Chlorophyll in the leaves of plants can be extracted and separated using chromatography. A good source of chlorophyll for an extraction is a dark green leafy vegetable like spinach. Rub a fresh spinach leaf on the bottom of a strip of filter paper. You can get a… Read more
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Science Fair Project Idea
Have you ever looked in the kitchen cupboard and found a container of tiny white grains, but you were not sure if they were sugar or salt? They look very similar. How could you tell them apart? Well, you know that sugar and salt taste very different. Taste is actually called a property, and properties are used to describe and identify different materials. Properties can also be used to physically separate things. In this science project, you will use different properties to create a way… Read more
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Science Fair Project Idea
Can bacteria be altered to produce life-saving insulin for diabetics? Or change color to indicate the presence of a harmful toxin? Yes, it can! Using biotechnology, scientists work daily on problems like these. It starts with selecting a gene you want bacteria to produce and creating a sequence of DNA that has that gene and a promoter that will help express it at the right time and at the right levels. The next hurdle is actually getting this engineered DNA into the bacteria and… Read more
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While looking at a package of dry yeast it is hard to believe that the package has organisms in it that are alive. But add the right ingredients and presto, the mixture becomes a bubbly, oozing, mess of life! What are the right ingredients? What does that yeast need to become active? Do this science project and figure it out for yourself! Read more
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Are all reds the same? Find out in this science fair project! Investigate if the pigments in one type of red flower are different from those in another type of red flower. Flowers contain an assortment of amazing chemicals that produce color. In this plant biology project, you will analyze the colored pigments in different plants' red flower petals using paper chromatography, and compare the pigments in the different flowers. Read more
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What is expression cloning and how is it used in the biotechnology industry? How are plasmids constructed for use in a bacterial expression system? You can investigate these questions and more using bacterial expression kits meant for high school classes. You will need a laboratory space equipped to grow bacteria and carry out simple molecular biology. A kit with plasmids and bacterial cells to transform are also needed. Here are two possibilities: BioBuilder What a Colorful World Kit … Read more
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Everyone loves the beautiful colors of fall, but where do they come from and how does the change in colors happen? In this project, you will uncover the hidden colors of fall by separating plant pigments with paper chromatography. What colors will you see? Read more
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Unlocking the three-dimensional structure of a protein is crucial to help scientists understand how it functions in our bodies and how it can cause devastating diseases if it becomes disrupted or interacts in the wrong way. However, figuring out the structure of a protein in three-dimensional space can be very challenging. Proteins are the functional units of our cells, and every protein is made up of a long chain of amino acids. Amino acids come in different shapes and sizes, and they have… Read more
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Did you ever wonder how yeast makes bread dough rise? This project will show you what yeast does to make this happen. You'll also investigate the conditions yeast needs to grow. Read more
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Science Fair Project Idea
Imagine that you could make an important piece of laboratory equipment in your kitchen. With this science project idea, you can! You will create your own centrifuge out of a salad spinner and some putty. In science labs, centrifuges are used to separate different liquids and/or solids from each other. You can load your homemade centrifuge with samples and see how they separate. What do you think happens to melted butter in a centrifuge? Read more
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Science Fair Project Idea
It is fun to shake up a snow globe and watch the "snow" slowly fall. You can imagine that if the snow fell down very quickly it would be disappointing. But there are times when scientists in a laboratory want this to happen. Scientists use samples that have liquid mixed with small, solid pieces (like the inside of a snow globe), and they need all of the solid pieces in a clump, separated from the liquid. Instead of waiting for the pieces to slowly fall out of the liquid, scientists speed up… Read more
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Science Fair Project Idea
Have you ever dyed eggs? Turning eggshells from white into different, dazzling colors can be a lot of fun! To do this, most people buy dye tablets to make different colors in a liquid bath. They then dip the egg into the liquid and wait till it turns the desired color. You can dye eggs in many other ways, and one neat method uses silk ties. Sounds strange to use clothing to dye eggs, right? But it actually works really well! In this science project, you will dye eggs with old or used… Read more

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Sources

Additional Support

We'd like to acknowledge the additional support of:

  • Abbott Fund
  • Bio-Rad
  • MedImmune
Free science fair projects.