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American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers

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Ensuring a Strong Engineering Workforce

Learn about a profession that is transforming lives around the world.

Discover Careers in BAE

Weather Do you want to make a real difference in your world? Would you like to improve quality of life, protect the environment, and help meet the needs of a growing world population? For the student who enjoys science and math, biological and agricultural engineering offers a unique opportunity to combine those scholarly interests with the challenge of providing food, fuel, fiber, timber and other goods without degrading or depleting our natural resources.

BAE academic programs offer a unique and valuable educational experience. Coursework includes engineering fundamentals complemented by classes in biological and agricultural sciences. When they reach their advanced-level courses, BAE students then tend to choose a specialty area according to their individual interests - for example, environmental systems, food production, biological processes, or power and machinery systems. The breadth of the BAE educational experience means that graduates have many career options, from ecosystems protection, to food safety, to bioenergy, and even human health.

BAE students enjoy a distinct advantage when it comes time to enter the workforce. Their well-rounded engineering experiences enable them to function exceptionally well on the multidisciplinary teams in today's workforce. And only biological and agricultural engineers have the training and experience to understand the interrelationships between technology and living systems - talents needed to succeed in engineering positions today and in the future.

Brochure groupWhy Students Love BAE

"I found biological and agricultural engineering to be a challenging field of study and very different from the typical engineering fields. I have the chance to work in an industry that affects everyone in the world!"

"Other university departments are so big and impersonal, but my faculty took time to get to know me and help me grow, personally as well as academically. There is a real sense of community in this major."

"My studies prepared me for the job market by exposing me to many different experiences and scenarios that come across in work."

Discover Careers in Biological and Agricultural Engineering - a special issue of Resource magazine.

Specialty Areas

Biological and agricultural engineering embraces a variety of specialty areas. As new technology and information emerge, specialty areas are created, and many overlap with one or more other areas. Here are descriptions of some of the exciting specialties you could choose to focus on as a student in biological and agricultural engineering.

Biological Engineering
Biological_2One of the most rapidly growing of the BAE specialties, biological engineering applies engineering practice to problems and opportunities presented by living things and the natural environment. Biological engineers are involved in a variety of exciting interests that continue to emerge as our understanding of science and nature grows. Areas of interest range from environmental protection and remediation, to food and feed production, to medicine and plant-based pharmaceuticals and packaging materials. Some BAEs with expertise in biological engineering design medical implants and other devices, or bioinstrumentation and imaging products. Other develop strategies for natural pest control and treatment of hazardous wastes, for composting, and for enzyme processing of biomass, food, feed, and wastes.

NatResourcesNatural Resources
Our environment is fragile. The 1930s Dust Bowl and climatic events like the El Nino phenomenon remind us that our soil and water are vulnerable to degradation by both natural and man-made forces. Concerns about global climate change compel us further compel us to protect our natural resources. BAEs with environmental expertise work to better understand the complex mechanics of these resources, so that they can be used efficiently and without degradation. These engineers determine crop water requirements and design irrigation systems. They are experts in agricultural hydrology principles, such as controlling drainage, and they implement ways to control soil erosion and study the environmental effects of sediment on stream quality. Natural resources engineers design, build, operate and maintain water control structures for reservoirs, floodways and channels. They also work on water treatment systems, wetlands protection, and other water issues.

tractorPower Systems & Machinery Design
BAEs in this specialty focus on designing advanced equipment, making it more efficient and less demanding of our natural resources. They develop equipment for food processing, highly precise crop spraying, agricultural commodity and waste transport, and turf and landscape maintenance, as well as equipment for such specialized tasks as removing seaweed from beaches. This is in addition to the tractors, tillage equipment, irrigation equipment, and harvest equipment that have done so much to reduce the drudgery of farming. Their work remains challenging as technology advances, production practices change and equipment manufacturers expand globally.

Structures & Environment
BAEs understand the importance of creating and maintaining a healthy environment for growing agricultural commodities and for the laborers who produce them. They also understand that our natural resources must not be diminished, in quality or availability, by agricultural operations. Toward these ends, BAEs with expertise in structures and environment design animal housing, storage structures, and greenhouses, with ventilation systems, temperature and humidity controls, and structural strength appropriate for their climate and purpose. They also devise better practices and systems for storing, recovering, reusing, and transporting waste products.

Food and Bioprocess Engineers
poultry_inspecFood, fiber, and timber are only the beginning of a long list of products that benefit from efficient use of our natural resources. The list is growing - it includes biomass fuels, biodegradable packaging materials, nutraceuticals, pharmaceutical and other products - and is limited only by the creative vision of food and bioprocess engineers. These engineers understand microbiological processes and use this expertise to develop useful products, to treat municipal, industrial and agricultural wastes, and to improve food safety. They are experts in pasteurization, sterilization, and irradiation, and in the packaging, transportation and storage of perishable products. Food an process engineers combine design expertise with manufacturing methods to develop economical and responsible processing solutions for industry. And food and process engineers look for ways to reduce waste by devising alternatives for treatment, disposal and utilization.

gpsInformation & Electrical Technologies
Information and electrical technologies engineering is one of the most versatile of the BAE specialty areas, because it is applied to virtually all the others, from machinery design to soil testing to food quality and safety control. Geographic information systems, global positioning systems, machine instrumentation and controls, electromagnetics, and -"bioinfomatics"- biorobotics, machine vision, sensors, spectroscopy - these are some of the exciting information and electrical technologies being used today and being developed for the future.

OwlForest Engineering
Biological and agricultural engineers apply engineering to solve natural resource and environment problems in forest production systems and related manufacturing industries. Engineering skills and expertise are needed to address problems related to equipment design and manufacturing, forest access systems design and construction; machine-soil interaction and erosion control; forest operations analysis and improvement; decision modeling; and wood product design and manufacturing. Forest engineers are involved in a full range of activities in natural resource management and forest production systems.

turbinesEnergy
Our high standard of living and comfort could not be maintained without energy to power the machines, devices, and systems in our homes and workplaces. But many energy sources are nonrenewable and create undesirable byproducts. Biological and agricultural engineers are at the forefront of the effort to identify and develop viable energy sources-biomass, methane, and vegetable oil, to name a few - and to make these and other systems cleaner and more efficient. These specialists also develop energy conservation strategies to reduce costs and protect the environment, and they design traditional and alternative energy systems to meet the needs of agricultural operations.

AquacultureAquacultural Engineering
The demand for aquacultural engineering is increasing as natural fish supplies are threatened. Biological and agricultural engineers help design farm systems for raising fish and shellfish, as well as ornamental and bait fish. They specialize in water quality, biotechnology, machinery, natural resources, feeding and ventilation systems, and sanitation. They seek ways to reduce pollution from aquacultural discharges, to reduce excess water use, and to improve farm systems. They also work with aquatic animal harvesting, sorting, and processing.

GreenhouseNursery & Greenhouse Engineering
In many ways, nursery and greenhouse operations are microcosms of large-scale production agriculture, with many similar needs - irrigation, mechanization, disease and pest control, and nutrient application. However, other engineering needs also present themselves in nursery and greenhouse operations: equipment for transplantation; control systems for temperature, humidity, and ventilation; and plant biology issues, such as hydroponics, tissue culture, and seedling propagation methods. And sometimes the challenges are extraterrestrial: BAEs at NASA are designing greenhouse systems to support a manned expedition to Mars!

Safety and Health
safetyFarming is one of the few industries in which entire families - who often share the work and live on the premises - are vested and are at risk for injuries, illness, and death. Biological and agricultural engineers analyze health and injury data, the use and possible misuse of machines, and equipment compliance with standards and regulation. They constantly look for ways in which the safety of equipment, materials and agricultural practices can be improved and for ways in which safety and health issues can be communicated to the public.

 

 

Preparing for a Career

As with any engineering discipline, you'll need to take as many math and science courses as you can while you're in high school, but you should be sure to include life sciences among you selections. You should also take writing and speech courses; every engineer must be able to communicate effectively, and that includes speaking, listening, and the art of persuasion.

grapefruit You'll find that university BAE programs have many names, such as biological systems engineering, bioresource engineering, environmental engineering, forest engineering, or food and process engineering.

Whatever the title, the typical curriculum begins with courses in writing, social sciences, and economics, along with mathematics (calculus and statistics), chemistry, physics, and biology. You'll gain a fundamental knowledge of the life sciences and how biological systems interact with their environment. You'll also take engineering courses, such as thermodynamics, mechanics, instrumentation and controls, electronics and electrical circuits, and engineering design. Then you'll add courses related to your particular interests, perhaps including mechanization, soil and water resource management, food and process engineering, industrial microbiology, biological engineering or pest management. As seniors, engineering students team up to design, build, and test new processes or products.

One thing you'll enjoy as a student in a university BAE program is the environment. Nearly every BAE student you'll talk to will describe their department in a similar way: "It's like a family." Cliché as that might sound, BAE departments pride themselves on taking care of their students, on helping them become confident, competent leaders. In a BAE department, you'll enjoy a close personal academic experience in which faculty look after their students, and students look after each other. Perhaps that's because the faculty:student ratio is much lower than in most other engineering programs, or perhaps it's because all share an awareness of the higher sense of purpose in their work. Or maybe it's a reflection of the rural-community traditions in which the discipline can trace its history. Regardless of the reason, the supportive environment of BAE departments is a difference you'll appreciate in facing the academic and social challenges of your college years.

Where to Study ?

For a list of universities that offer biological and agricultural engineering degrees, click here.

Ag Systems Management

Not inclined toward an engineering career? Consider agricultural systems management, or agricultural technology. This special issue of Resource magazine will tell you more.

Explore Careers in Agricultural Technology and Systems Management

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