Program Overview

The BioBuild doctoral program focuses on educating and partnering across disciplines, which gives our students the interdisciplinary knowledge base and collaboration network needed to explore building systems and biological systems synergistically to discover innovative connections between these two fields.


Our educational framework mimics other highly successful interdisciplinary programs at Virginia Tech. Students matriculate into either the Building Systems Track or the Biological Systems Track, and their transformative experience occurs within the program’s three components.

  • Component I: Cross-Discipline Education and Community Building
  • Component II: Interdisciplinary Growth and Professional Development
  • Component III: Interdisciplinary Research and Outreach

Component I: Cross-Discipline Education and Community Building

Students will matriculate into the program through two tracks: (1) Building Systems and (2) Biological Systems. All students will take Buildings and Biology: Discovering and Leveraging Synergies to introduce them to key relationships between built and biological systems. Building systems students must understand the fundamentals of biological form and function to incorporate systems and implement ideas that evolution has worked on for eons. Conversely, biological systems students need to understand building design opportunities and limitations to consider how buildings may work in harmony with their environment. In addition, students will build interdisciplinary expertise by participating in graduate courses outside of their home discipline. Students in the Building Systems Track will select courses in the biological systems area and vice versa; this will give students exposure and skills in courses that complement their research. All students will also participate in a seminar series where new and continuing students as well as BioBuild faculty will join in weekly presentations about germane subjects. Students will also have the opportunity to rotate for six- to eight-week periods into faculty research groups or laboratories outside of their disciplines. Collectively, these integrative experiences will help students learn behaviors that allow cross-discipline communication and encourage future collaboration.

Component II: Interdisciplinary Growth and Professional Development

Students will develop interdisciplinary skills through curricular training and professional development activities, such as conference presentations and encouraged coursework from the Graduate School’s Transformative Graduate Education program. Two key elements are the elective courses that students will take to enhance their intellectual dexterity and the innovative capstone experience. The BioBuild Challenge Capstone will bring students together in a project-based environment that: 1) bridges the cultural gap between biology and engineering; 2) develops explicit and intentional competencies and perspectives; 3) incorporates engineering standards and constraints; 4) promotes meaningful connections between course work and career experiences; and 5) facilitates transition into a professional career. Faculty will identify challenges, some solicited from the VT community, for interdisciplinary student teams to select. Student teams will study comparable levels of biological organization to propose a potential solution to the challenge.

Component III: Interdisciplinary Research and Outreach

Every BioBuild student will identify a major advisor from within their track and a co-advisor from a complementary discipline; the rotation experience in Component I is geared toward facilitating this. Student outreach initiatives will include coordinating a regional bio-inspired design challenge and presenting work products in academic/professional settings. The design challenge will target the K-12 pipeline by sponsoring a competition where students must apply biological concepts to solve an engineering problem; K-12 teams will participate in a campus fair where their proposals will be evaluated by BioBuild faculty and students.