I have this postcard my friend sent me from Vienna. It says “Bio-Engineer (28)”. 28 refers to my age at that time.
This postcard has been sent 4 years ago. It means that the idea of becoming a bioengineer was in my head for at least 4 years. And in all that time, I did little to nothing to become a bioengineer.
It’s about time to take action.
I don’t remember when the idea of bioengineering crept into my head. It was probably growing for a while before I noticed it.
I’ve always been fascinated by science and engineering. Since I started taking a closer look at futurism and stumbled upon the ideas of transhumanism, the biotechnology started to show up more and more. Genetic engineering. CRISPR. Reversing ageing. Biobots. I become more exposed to advancements in biotech and it started slowly grow on me.
If I can pinpoint that one tipping moment, I’d put my finger on Isaac Arthur’s video about bioforming and gene tailoring. There was always this talk about “biology is the next big thing” or “biology is the new computer science” happening in the background but that did not inspire me as much as those tangible visions Isaac portrayed.
Then this idea of becoming a bioengineer just started to grow. The more I read about it and what can be done with biology, the more I wanted to be a part of it.
The day eventually has come when I said: “I will be a bioengineer” and this is where we are now.
What is bioengineering?
According to Wikipedia,
Bioengineering is the application of principles of biology and the tools of engineering to create usable, tangible, economically viable products
This definition contains three parts and let’s look at them separately.
The first part is the application of principles of biology. Biology is the natural science that studies life and living organisms. We are dealing with life here. With things that can grow, evolve, reproduce, change and adapt to their environment.
The second part is the tools of engineering. The word engineer comes from Latin words ingeniare (“to create, generate, contrive, devise”) and ingenium (“cleverness”). Merriam-Webster dictionary defines engineering as follows:
the application of science and mathematics by which the properties of matter and the sources of energy in nature are made useful to people
Being an engineer means then being someone who cleverly applies the laws of nature to create something useful for other people.
This leads us to the third part of our definition of bioengineering — to create usable, tangible, economically viable products. Engineering is practical. There is no such thing as abstract engineering. As an engineer, my responsibility is to build things that are useful for people. And in the same time, I need to be practical. I need to keep an eye on the economics of what I am creating. I need always look for more optimal ways of achieving the same result. Again, as an engineer we are practical.
One may ask how does engineering relate to science?
Again, from Wikipedia:
Science (from the Latin word scientia, meaning “knowledge”) is a systematic enterprise that builds and organizes knowledge in the form of testable explanations and predictions about the universe
Engineers use science on a daily basis. Engineers need to understand the fundamental laws of physics governing their domain. Electrical and electronics engineers need to understand the laws of electricity. Mechanical engineers need to understand the laws of motion and the properties of the material they use.
Science seeks knowledge for the same of knowledge. But, as an engineer, I seek knowledge not for the sake of knowledge. I seek knowledge so I can apply it. Build something with it.
Combining all of that together, we can create a picture I’m aspiring to.
As a bioengineer, I am someone who cleverly applies the laws governing living organisms to create usable and economically viable products.
How do I get there?
I don’t have training in biology. I was studying computer science and I have been working as a software engineer for over 10 years now. I have acquired the skills and knowledge that will be useful in becoming a bioengineer. But biology is not computer science. I have to learn and get familiar with an entirely new field.
Bioengineering is a wide field with a lot of subfields. I know I don’t want to specialize too much in any particular field (another story for later). I want to know enough so when there is a problem to solve, I can apply the broad knowledge to at least build a prototype and see where to go from there.
My plan is to approach bioengineering from two sides. On one side, we have low-level biology. That’s the realm of DNA, proteins, biochemistry, microbiology and biophysics. On the other end, we have high-level biology — bioinformatics, computational biology. I will be filling gaps in my knowledge from both ends and meet them somewhere in the middle.
Apart from that, there is a fair amount of physics, mathematics and computer science I need to brush off.
I will be posting every week here what I have learned in the last week. I’ll be using the Feynman learning technique for that. I will be sharing not only what I have learned but also how I learn. On top of that, I will share progress on YouTube and Instagram.
This is just a broad picture of my approach to becoming a bioengineer. I will share more details in later posts.
The end goal
I don’t know where the bioengineering path will lead me. All I know is that I am on this path. I want to create a world where we, humans, can coexist with nature and technology in a sustainable relationship. I want to create green cities where humanity can flourish. And most of all, I don’t want to see us and this planet fading away.
For me, the path to achieving all of that goes somewhere between biology and engineering.
Originally published at https://conradthegray.com on April 19, 2020.