MBP Course Spotlight: Upstream Bioprocess Engineering

Biotechnology students learn to apply concepts and kinetic analysis when analyzing data in this course.

MBP Director Bill Miller has taught Upstream Bioprocess Engineering for the past 11 yearsMBP Director Bill Miller has taught Upstream Bioprocess Engineering for the past 11 years

By Bill Miller

For the past 11 years, I’ve taught Upstream Bioprocess Engineering, a capstone course in Northwestern Engineering’s Master of Science in Biotechnology program (MBP).

Students learn how to quantitatively analyze cell growth and metabolic profiles under different culture conditions used in the biotechnology and biopharmaceutical industries.  The course builds on what students have learned in their biological sciences and engineering classes and brings together engineering and biology majors.

It is complemented by the bioprocess engineering lab class in the same quarter that gives students hands-on experience with many of the concepts.

The class provides a quantitative basis for the analysis of biological processes, so MBP students can apply the concepts and kinetic analysis learned in this class when analyzing data from their research experiments.  Understanding how the culture environment alters cell growth and metabolic patterns will also help students design their experiments.

I like to focus on conceptual understanding that allows students to apply the concepts learned in the class to new situations they encounter in industry.

Ultimately, I hope students come away with two key learnings:

  1. Cell growth, metabolism, productivity and product quality are very sensitive to the culture environment and cells alter metabolic patterns to offset adverse conditions; this means that you need to carefully control the culture environment, but it also gives you many degrees of freedom to modulate cell responses.

  2. The challenges associated with scaling up and scaling down biological processes.

I use reading tests before each class to help students understand the concepts behind the problems they solve.

Students spend a lot of time on this class, but I am humbled because so many come back to me after working in industry to tell me how relevant the coursework was to what they do today.

If I had to pick one thing I enjoy most about the course, it is the direct relevance to the biotechnology and biopharmaceutical industries. Graduates in industry often tell me that they frequently use the material in this course and that it was the most valuable course they took at Northwestern.

Learn more about the course and the rest of the MBP curriculum.