Bioengineering vs Environmental Engineering: How They Differ

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An environmental engineer gives a presentation.

For students pursuing an online engineering degree such as the Master of Science in Engineering (MSE) from the University of California, Riverside (UCR), one of the fundamental advantages of the program is the wide range of specialization options. Engineering is a vast and varied field, and the structure of the UCR MSE reflects that reality.

Incoming students can select from options including Bioengineering, Electrical Engineering, Environmental Engineering, Materials at the Nanoscale, Mechanical Engineering, Data Science, and Chemical Engineering. While these concentrations collectively cover a diverse range of engineering topics, some of the individual selections are closely related.

For example, bioengineering and environmental engineering have some overlap in their subject matter. Let’s compare and contrast them so you can make an informed decision about which to pursue through the UCR MSE.

Bioengineering: Key courses and outcomes for UCR MSE students

Bioengineering is sometimes referred to as biomedical engineering. It encompasses the cross-disciplinary study of topics in genetics, computational biology, and physiological systems, all toward the goal of developing practical applications for health care.


The bioengineering specialization at UCR includes four required courses:

  • Engineering Analysis of Physiological Systems — This course applies engineering principles to the study of mammalian organ systems (nervous, muscular, cardiovascular, respiratory and renal) to understand their key operations and interactions.
  • Cellular and Molecular Engineering — In this class, MSE students will investigate DNA replication, RNA processing, membrane structure, gene expression and other concepts through the lens of engineering.
  • Integration of Computational and Experimental Biology — This multidisciplinary requirement provides in-depth training in experiment design, including parameter estimation, hypothesis testing and causation versus correlation.
  • Biotransport Phenomena — This course examines concepts such as mass transport and momentum, applying them to issues like circulation within organ systems.


Some of the most common job titles for bioengineering graduates include medical scientist, pharmaceutical engineer and medical device engineer. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimates 7 percent growth among all biomedical engineer positions from 2016 to 2026. It has also calculated the median pay for these occupations at more than $88,000, which is much higher than the national median.

Environmental engineering: Key courses and outcomes for UCR MSE students

Environmental engineering is a broad field centered on the use of engineering principles to control the natural environment and ultimately benefit the human populations everywhere. At UCR, the environmental engineering specialization within the MSE is focused entirely on water resources and systems.

Access to clean water is far from a given in many parts of the world, with 780 million people lacking an improved water source according to UNICEF and the World Health Organization. The work of environmental engineers can help address this overarching problem while also improving existing treatment systems.


Like the bioengineering specialization, environmental engineering features four required core courses:

  • Water Chemistry in Natural and Engineered Systems — This course covers chemical equilibrium in natural and human-engineered water treatment systems. Students will study water quality characterizations and learn how to perform computer-modeled chemical experiments.
  • Biological Treatment Processes — This class explores the biological contamination of water alongside the specific treatment processes for it; examples of the latter include suspended and fixed-film methods. MSE students will also look at biological reactions in terms of their kinetic, thermodynamic and chemical interactions.
  • Physical and Chemical Separation Processes — In this class, students look at the separation processes of natural and engineered systems. Topics covered include colloid chemistry, sedimentation, coagulation and particle removal mechanisms of water filters.
  • Advanced Treatment Systems — Students in this course dive into the techniques that support the everyday processing of drinking water and wastewater. Some of the specific technologies examined include reverse osmosis, oxidation and membrane filtration.


With an MSE with a specialization in environmental engineering, graduates are prepared to pursue positions that promote cleaner water and air. Some of the most prominent possibilities include hydrologist, wastewater process engineer and air quality engineer.

The BLS has projected that the number of hydrologist positions will grow 10 percent from 2016 to 2026, which is faster than the average for all professions. Hydrologists also have relatively high median pay of nearly $80,000. For environmental engineers as a group, the BLS foresees 8 percent growth from 2016 to 2026 and even higher median compensation of more than $86,000 annually.

What bioengineering and environmental engineering have in common at UCR

Students in both the bioengineering and environmental engineering programs benefit from the MSE’s 100 percent online format, which provides flexibility and convenience for working professionals. No residency is required, and with expedited completion the entire MSE in any concentration can be finished in only 13 months. The degree conferred is the same as one earned on campus.

While the two tracks have different specialization courses, they share the same quartet of required classes that apply to all MSE candidates. These four courses — Engineering in the Global Environment, Technology Innovation and Strategy for Engineers, Introduction to Systems Engineering and Principles of Engineering Management — build background in both the technical and managerial aspects of modern engineering.

Graduates of any UCR MSE track will emerge as competent managers capable of leading engineering teams through complex projects. Not only do MSE students become well-versed in principles like systems engineering, but they also become experts in overseeing team collaboration, which has evolved with the rise of technologies like video conferencing software for anytime/anywhere meetings.

How to get started with the MSE at UCR

Whether you select bioengineering or environmental engineering, the UCR MSE provides a rewarding online experience that can help you pursue new opportunities in engineering. For more information on admissions and program structure, visit this page, where you can specify your interests in particular concentrations and receive a copy of the program brochure.

Recommended Reading:

4 Important Ways That Bioengineering Has Enhanced Health Care

What Are Advanced Water Treatment Processes?

Global WASH Fast Facts


Biomedical engineers


Environmental engineers