Top Rated Program Puts Purdue at Tech Intersection

Purdue University has long enjoyed a reputation of being a prominent engineering school, but one of its disciplines—which a former student refers to as a "well-kept" secret—is in the spotlight for the fifth year in a row. U.S. News & World Report recently selected the department of agricultural and biological engineering (ABE) as the top such graduate program in the country. It's a distinction that department leaders say benefits the program as it continues to train students and support faculty who are working to solve some of society's grand challenges.

"It's a very exciting time to be in agricultural and biological engineering," says Purdue ABE Professor and Department Head Bernie Engel. "Our students, alumni and faculty are very well-positioned to help solve global challenges—things like clean, safe water and a plentiful and safe food supply. Parts of our program get into unique medical health issues, where we can make engineering advances with the combination of biology to help people live longer, healthier and higher-quality lives." Listen

The program, which is a coordinated effort between the College of Agriculture and College of Engineering, also addresses current prevalent issues such as clean energy and biofuels. Engel says the department is also conducting groundbreaking research at the intersection of biotechnology, biological engineering and nanotechnology. Five ABE faculty members earned at least one patent during the 2011-2012 fiscal year.

"We have students and faculty making phenomenal discoveries in the life sciences space that certainly have potential to take the next steps and become commercial products," says Engel. "Helping drive that discovery piece is a place where I think we provide significant opportunities and help the state move forward." Listen

Brittany Newell, who earned a PhD in ABE from Purdue in 2012, believes the department's multi-disciplinary approach helps it stand out on a national scale.

"There's a wide range of projects that are conducted; environmental, biotech and machine systems, and even within that, there are sub- categories," says Newell, who works as a quality engineer at Indianapolis-based Marian Inc., a medical device and component manufacturer. "It gives you the confidence to attack different types of problems, because you're faced with a variety of engineering disciplines [in the graduate program]. It might not be a problem you've seen before, but you can compare it to other experiences you've had and come up with a solution." Listen

Jason Brown, an engineering manager at Indianapolis-based Eli Lilly and Company who earned a Purdue ABE master's degree in 2002, says the department's interaction with industry is one of its biggest strengths.

"In graduate school, I did work with Caterpillar, and the research was funded by Caterpillar," says Brown. "So it's not just Purdue coming up with a wild concept of what they want to do. [ABE] works with companies to identify issues that industry is trying solve, and then work on those at Purdue. It's one thing to graduate a lot of people who have a high GPA; it's another to have people going out into industry and making an impact and having research come out of the university that's impactful as well." Listen

In addition to the graduate school being nationally recognized, the magazine also gave the ABE undergraduate program the top ranking in the U.S. for the second consecutive year.

"Not only is Purdue a good engineering school, some of the programs are rated number one—[ABE] five years in a row—that kind of distinction may be surprising to people," says Brown. "ABE is a pretty well-kept secret, except for people at Purdue who have been through it or people who have hired graduates."

Fueled by a world hungry for scientific and engineering advances to address global grand challenges, the secret may be getting out that a university in Indiana is leading the charge.

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