New PhD program in molecular engineering marks historic first for UChicago

The University of Chicago will offer an engineering PhD for the first time, emphasizing the development of solutions to technological problems of society based on molecular-level science.

“Traditional engineering schools divide engineering into disciplines; IME combines disciplines into a new approach to engineering research and education,” said Matthew Tirrell, the Pritzker Director of the Institute for Molecular Engineering.

The degree was approved for the Institute of Molecular Engineering at the May meeting of the Council of the University Senate. The Institute will begin accepting applications this autumn. The first directly admitted class will enroll in the 2014 fall quarter.

The Institute is developing an innovative curriculum that would incorporate elements of engineering education complementary to the strong existing science curriculums in UChicago sister divisions. The newly created molecular engineering courses will be open to all students in other PhD programs at the University.

“Our educational objective is to provide our graduate students with interdisciplinary expertise and skill sets that would enable them to tackle big, technological challenges facing society in areas such as health care, energy, and water resource management and information technology,” Tirrell said.

The institute currently comprises four faculty members. Tirrell expects the faculty to achieve a target size of 25 over the next decade. Once at full strength, the faculty could collectively work with somewhere between 180 and 240 PhD students.

“We will recruit doctoral students from all science and engineering fields. We are looking for people who are excited and passionate about developing technological solutions with high societal impacts,” Tirrell said.