Groundbreaking CS + X degrees expand into Bioengineering and Physics

2/23/2023 Aaron Seidlitz, Illinois CS

Written by Aaron Seidlitz, Illinois CS

The roster of revolutionary CS + X degrees grew by two, for a total of 14, with the addition of a bachelor’s degree in CS + Bioengineering (BIOE) and CS + Physics. Students can apply during the Fall 2023 semester to enroll for the Fall 2024 semester.

These are the first two CS + X offerings to include partnerships between Illinois Computer Science and “X” programs within The Grainger College of Engineering.

The CS + X degrees, many the firsts of their kind, combine a solid grounding in computer science with training in the arts or sciences, allowing students to bring computational skills to fields where they are increasingly in demand.

These new degree options join existing bachelor’s degrees in CS + X programs that include Anthropology, Astronomy, Chemistry, Crop Sciences, and more. Two other blended bachelor’s degrees include Mathematics & Computer Science, offered since 1964, and Statistics & Computer Science, added in 1988.

A closer look at the new CS + X degrees follows.

CS + Bioengineering

The fields of Bioengineering and Computer Science have held a common thread for years – one that is only growing more important according to Andrew Smith, Bioengineering professor and associate head of undergraduate programs.

Andrew Smith
Andrew Smith

The ability to adapt to the influences of big data within the healthcare and life sciences sectors can help unlock new possibilities.

Smith explains how the CS + BIOE program will position students to study this intersection to become a valuable resource:

Q: How and where do the two disciplines intersect?

“There is an ongoing ‘big data revolution’ in the life sciences and medicine due to the maturation of an assortment of new bioengineering technologies. As a result, there is a pressing need to sort through vast imaging data, genomic sequences, single-cell and spatial omics data, and longitudinal health metrics that are now growing exponentially.

Modern tools in computer science are essential in these efforts, particularly using artificial intelligence, computational modeling, and apps for mobile devices to find biologically and clinically useful outcomes. Experts are now needed who can translate between biomedical needs, bioengineering tools and data, and advanced computation in nearly all industrial domains of healthcare, medicine, biotechnology, and pharmaceutics.”

Q: What are some of the jobs students could pursue with this degree?

“CS + BIOE graduates will be particularly suited to pursue employment as data scientists, engineers, and artificial intelligence specialists in the rapidly growing sectors of healthcare information technology and bioinformatics. Job opportunities also mirror those traditionally available to bioengineers, including the medical device and pharma industry sectors. Graduates should anticipate working on large project teams and collaborating with specialists in medicine, life sciences, regulation, and policy to advance the development of next-generation medicines and health-focused consumer products.”

Q: When would the first students enroll and how many do you expect?

“Students should apply in the Fall of 2023 for admission the following year. The first class of approximately 25 students will begin in the Fall of 2024.”

 CS + Physics

Growing upon a longstanding tie between CS and Physics, the new CS + Physics program will formalize interdisciplinary training in several distinct sectors, which appeal to students from each discipline, according to Physics professor Lucas K. Wagner.

Lucas K. Wagner
Lucas K. Wagner

From the emerging area of quantum computing to traditional engineering fields, this new program will offer undergraduate students the opportunity to learn how computational physics can solve outstanding problems in many fields.

Wagner explains how the CS + Physics program will position these students to study within this intersection and to meet the growing academic and industry demand for such expertise:

Q: How and where do the two disciplines intersect?

“CS and physics have a long history of interactions; in fact, some of the first applications of numerical methods were connected to physics problems at Los Alamos National Laboratory in the 1940s, and computational physics today stands as one of the three pillars of physics research.

Techniques that combine computing with the advanced modeling of dynamical systems that we learn in physics find applications in a growing number of fields, from finance to more traditional engineering applications. In the past few decades, a significant topic in the theory of computation has been quantum computing, in which the behavior of quantum systems may be able to extend the capability of computation.”

Q: What are some of the jobs students could pursue with this degree?

“The degree is quite flexible, so we look forward to seeing what our graduates do with it! The degree will be appealing to employers in industry looking for people who not only can code but can also transfer models of the world around us into computation. The methods our students will learn, as mentioned above, have applications in a wide array of fields that range from finance to engineering. The program will also prepare students interested in pursuing graduate school in either computer science or physics.”

Q: When would the first students enroll and how many do you expect?

“The first class will start in Fall 2024, with an anticipated enrollment of around 25 students.”

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This story was published February 23, 2023.