Think Small for Big Impact: Molecular Engineering Ph.D.

Filed Under: MolE PhDNews

UW PhD students have access to a state-of-the art Molecular Analysis Facility to characterize and study materials
UW PhD students have access to a state-of-the art Molecular Analysis Facility to characterize and study materials

Ph.D. Program in Molecular Engineering Offers
Collaborative Environment Designed For Impact

The University of Washington introduced a new graduate program in an emerging field of molecular science.  Starting in fall of 2014, pioneering students began a path of study that nurtures and develops their professional identities as versatile thinkers in Molecular Engineering, while they earning a doctorate degree from one of the first programs of its kind in the United States.

The program, which is house in the UW Graduate School, was developed by the UW Molecular Engineering & Sciences Institute, one of the nation's premier centers for the study of molecular engineering and nanotechnology.

At is core, molecular engineering is about the assembly of molecules how they connect, the impact of connections and how to create new molecules that may not exist in nature. The ability to study and engineer molecules in ways that provide insight into their behaviors in materials adds a level of sophistication to product design. It can have a tremendous impact across industries such as health care, energy and technology.

René Overney, Associate Director for Education at the UW Molecular Engineering and Sciences (MolES) Institute says the increased sophistication of technology and the ability to design at the molecular level will reduce the reliance on "fortuitous discoveries," or happy accidents in the lab. Instead, students and engineers in the program will be trained in a rational approach of design from molecules to product.

"The ability to understand how a material behaves at the molecular level takes a lot of trial and error out of engineering. Today in many R&D labs, we know that something doesn't work, but we do not know why," Overney says. "This trial and error approach has been successful as long as there is enough money and not too many parameters to consider. With molecular engineering we are now focused on understanding the behavior of the molecules and designing from the molecule on up to the finished product, which can save incredible amounts of time and money."

For example, aerospace engineers might be looking at ways to manage the rigidity of an airplane wing, but they are stopped at a point where they know what the material can and cannot do. A molecular engineer can look at molecular structure of carbon fiber and understand how to make the molecular interfaces in the material stronger to reduce fracturing and improve airplane materials. Additional examples exist across industries including clean technology, health care and pharmaceuticals.

In addition, the ability for students to break out of traditional academic silos and work across disciplines is a key benefit of the program. At its core, the new Molecular Engineering Ph.D. program has an interdisciplinary approach. UW Departments such as Bioengineering, Chemical Engineering, Chemistry, Electrical Engineering, Computer Science, Physics, Materials Sciences and Engineering, and Mechanical Engineering have all committed time and faculty to the graduate program in Molecular Engineering.

PhD students learn from global experts in molecular engineering for medicine, energy, and biotech through a weekly seminar series.
PhD students learn from global experts in molecular engineering for medicine, energy, and biotech through a weekly seminar series.

This multi-disciplinary approach is necessary to address one of the on-going challenges in engineering technology from the bottom up: bringing together the critical mass of manpower among disciplines to span the realm from design theory to materials production, and from device design to product development.

"In contrast to typical graduate programs, which produce valuable but specialized researchers, the Molecular Engineering Ph.D. exposes students to tools and techniques from a variety of disciplines, allowing them to tackle today's industrial research goals from a global perspective," says Katharine Geramita, Ph.D., the director of research and development at EnerG2. "With this breadth of training as their basis, students can work directly across the entire process thus developing the most efficient and effective solutions."

Graduates of the program will earn a Masters in Science and a Ph.D. in Molecular Engineering They will be prepared to contribute to work in academia, national labs and research and development in multiple industries.

For more information about the application process for the Molecular Engineering Ph.D. at the University of Washington, visit

Applications are being accepted for the Autumn 2015 class through the end of 2014. Interested students should contact Paul Neubert, counseling services coordinator, at 206-221-6542 or via email: