Biomechanical engineering is an interdisciplinary field of science that applies the rules and principles of mechanical engineering to biological systems. It combines elements of many disciplines, including biology, engineering, physics, chemistry, and mathematics to better understand how physical forces influence living organisms. A biomechanical engineer may find work in the medical, scientific, or industrial sectors. It is sometimes considered a subset of biomedical engineering.
While the formal field of biomechanical engineering is relatively new, the concept of applying engineering principles to biology has been around for centuries. Ancient Greek philosopher and pioneering scientist Aristotle studied the movement of animals and came to view their bodies as mechanical systems. More contemporary engineers have looked to nature for inspiration and guidance in dealing with the laws of physics. Flying insects, for example, have been studied by aerospace engineers seeking to better understand the dynamics of flight at very small sizes. Today, the application of mechanics to living organisms is known as biomechanics, a term often used interchangeably with biomechanical engineering.
Biomechanical engineering can be regarded as a cross-section of different areas of science. A biomechanical engineer must be proficient not only in mechanics and traditional engineering concepts, but also biology, anatomy, and chemistry. The concepts and techniques of these different fields are used together to better understand how living things grow, move, and cope with external forces. The development of a human heart, for example, may be influenced by human genetic code and by the forces of mechanics which govern the growth and movement of the tissue. Research in biomechanics has led to the evolution in other areas of science such as manned space exploration. The principles of biomechanical engineering now generally find use in everything from building artificial organs and tissues to designing products more comfortable for consumers.
The evolution of technology has increased both the depth and scope of biomechanical engineering. While Aristotle and other early scientists could only observe biological systems with the naked eye, the modern biomechanical engineer can use technology to peer much deeper. Scientists can now look at how the laws of physics impact microscopic organisms or even individual cells. The rise of computers has helped by allowing the creation of complex models and advanced analysis of biological systems. Computer Assisted Design (CAD) software might even be used to design artificial organs that more closely match the mechanical properties of natural organs.
At many universities, biomechanical engineering is considered a subset of biomedical engineering. Some universities consider it to be discipline in its own right. In either case, the curriculum is likely to be a mix of classes from various different departments. Many universities allow students to customize their coursework to focus on a particular area of interest. Career opportunities are extremely diverse; they can be found in areas such as orthopedics, kinesiology, prosthetics, athletic performance, medical device design, rehabilitation and even consulting and research jobs for industrial, legal, and medical fields.