Biological systems engineering (BSE) is the application of engineering principles to biological and agricultural systems which greatly impact our food, fiber, and renewable energy resources. Since biological systems engineering programs focus heavily on the protection and conservation of natural resources, it is not uncommon for them to be described as sustainable engineering programs.

Within the BSE program a student must enroll in either the General Program area or in one of the following three specialization areas: Machinery Systems Engineering, Natural Resources and Environmental Engineering, or Food and Bioprocess Engineering. The specialization in Food and Bioprocess Engineering is split into a Food Engineering track and a Bioprocess Engineering track.

Students who complete all degree requirements are awarded a Bachelor of Science–Biological Systems Engineering degree. A student who completes one of the three program specializations will have the area of specialization identified on the official transcript. The BSE program, like all undergraduate engineering programs on the UW–Madison campus, is accredited by ABET. Accreditation by ABET is an indication of program quality and has major benefits for individuals seeking registration as a licensed professional engineer. A UW–Madison BSE graduate may apply for licensure as a registered professional engineer once they have passed the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam, obtained four years of qualifying engineering work experience, and have passed the Professional Engineering (PE) exam. To obtain a BSE degree from UW–Madison, a student must have taken (but is not required to have passed) the FE exam as part of their Senior Design sequence. Information about the FE exam can be found at Fundamentals of Engineering Exam.

Graduates work in career fields associated with the growth, harvest, transportation, processing and storage of food, feedstuffs, biomass for energy production and forestry products. This includes, but is not limited to, jobs involving the design, construction and management of: bio-energy production facilities, greenhouses, food processing plants, soil management systems and erosion control structures, irrigation and drainage systems, wastewater and solid waste treatment/recycling operations, animal housing facilities, aquaculture enterprises, systems for improved air quality, and equipment for agricultural production, material handling, processing, and packaging. Job opportunities for BSE graduates remain plentiful and show no signs of decreasing given (1) the increase in world population and corresponding increasing need for food, fiber and renewable energy, (2) the measurable shortage of highly trained technical personnel in the United States, and (3) the constantly expanding emphasis on protection and conservation of natural resources.

The UW–Madison BSE program is traditionally known for its emphasis on undergraduate education which is reflected in outstanding one-on-one advising and smaller class sizes.

The BSE program requires completion of a minimum of 125 credits to be eligible for graduation. Note that this is higher than the minimum for other CALS programs.

Entry to this professional program requires students to meet the five admission requirements detailed below. Students are admitted to the department as pre-Biological Systems Engineering until they meet the admission criteria. Admission eligibility must be confirmed by the department.

  1. Must complete a minimum of 24 degree credits.
  2. Must have completed a minimum of 17 graded credits of calculus, statistics, chemistry, computer science, statics, biology, and physics courses required for a BSE degree.
  3. Must have a math and science grade point average (M&SGPA) of at least 2.65 with a minimum grade of C in every course used to calculate the M&SGPA. The M&SGPA is based on: math courses numbered 217 and above (MATH 228 is excluded); statistics courses numbered 224 and above; all chemistry courses; all biology courses (courses with biological science breadth; maximum three courses, any required course must be included if taken); computer sciences courses numbered 302 and above (COMP SCI 402 is excluded); E M A 201 Statics; and physics courses numbered 201 and above. For any course that a student repeats, only the most recent grade will be used in the calculation. Any transfer course from another university that is included in the previous list must be included in the GPA calculation. 
  4. Must be in good academic standing—i.e., not on academic probation or dropped status.
  5. Must successfully complete introductory chemistry (CHEM 103 General Chemistry I & CHEM 104 General Chemistry II, or CHEM 109 Advanced General Chemistry, or equivalent) and math through MATH 222 Calculus and Analytic Geometry 2.

Revisions to #3 effective for students joining the department in 2019: Grades in courses Math 228 and Computer Science 402 are excluded from calculation.  A maximum of three courses with biological science breadth may be used. If BSE 349 has been completed, it must be included in the calculation.

University General Education Requirements

All undergraduate students at the University of Wisconsin–Madison are required to fulfill a minimum set of common university general education requirements to ensure that every graduate acquires the essential core of an undergraduate education. This core establishes a foundation for living a productive life, being a citizen of the world, appreciating aesthetic values, and engaging in lifelong learning in a continually changing world. Various schools and colleges will have requirements in addition to the requirements listed below. Consult your advisor for assistance, as needed. For additional information, see the university Undergraduate General Education Requirements section of the Guide.

General Education
  • Breadth—Humanities/Literature/Arts: 6 credits
  • Breadth—Natural Science: 4 to 6 credits, consisting of one 4- or 5-credit course with a laboratory component; or two courses providing a total of 6 credits
  • Breadth—Social Studies: 3 credits
  • Communication Part A & Part B *
  • Ethnic Studies *
  • Quantitative Reasoning Part A & Part B *

* The mortarboard symbol appears before the title of any course that fulfills one of the Communication Part A or Part B, Ethnic Studies, or Quantitative Reasoning Part A or Part B requirements.

College of Agricultural and Life Sciences Requirements

In addition to the University General Education Requirements, all undergraduate students in CALS must satisfy a set of college and major requirements. Courses may not double count within university requirements (General Education and Breadth) or within college requirements (First-Year Seminar, International Studies, Science, and Capstone), but courses counted toward university requirements may also be used to satisfy a college and/or a major requirement; similarly, courses counted toward college requirements may also be used to satisfy a university and/or a major requirement.

College Requirements for all CALS B.S. Degree Programs

Quality of Work: Students must maintain a minimum cumulative grade point average of 2.000 to remain in good standing and be eligible for graduation.
Residency: Students must complete 30 degree credits in residence at UW–Madison after earning 86 credits toward their undergraduate degree.
First Year Seminar1
International Studies3
Physical Science Fundamentals4-5
General Chemistry I
Chemistry in Our World
Advanced General Chemistry
Biological Science5
Additional Science (Biological, Physical, or Natural)3
Science Breadth (Biological, Physical, Natural, or Social)3
CALS Capstone Learning Experience: included in the requirements for each CALS major (see "Major Requirements")

Named Options within the Major

Students may complete the Biological Systems Engineering General Program or select a Named Option. The course requirements on this page represent the general program. Students are encouraged to consider one of the Named Options (Food and Bioprocess Engineering; Machinery Systems Engineering; or Natural Resources and Environmental Engineering). Links to learn more about these options, including the course requirements, are included below.

Major Requirements

Major Requirements
Common Requirements53
General Program Classes and Technical Electives43
Total Credits101

Common Requirements

The Biological Systems Engineering program requires completion of a minimum of 125 credits to be eligible for graduation. Note that this is higher than the minimum for other CALS programs.
Mathematics and Statistics
MATH 221 Calculus and Analytic Geometry 15
MATH 222 Calculus and Analytic Geometry 24
MATH 234 Calculus--Functions of Several Variables4
MATH 319 Techniques in Ordinary Differential Equations3
or MATH 320 Linear Algebra and Differential Equations
STAT 324 Introductory Applied Statistics for Engineers3
Select one of the following:5-9
Advanced General Chemistry (Recommended)
General Chemistry I
and General Chemistry II 1
BSE 349 Quantitative Techniques for Biological Systems3
One additional Biological Science breadth Course; the following courses are preferred choices: 22-5
Introductory Biology
Introductory Biology
General Botany
Animal Biology
General Microbiology 3
Biology of Microorganisms 3
E M A 201 Statics 43
PHYSICS 202 General Physics5
BSE 270 Introduction to Computer Aided Design3
Select one of the following:3
Problem Solving Using Computers (Preferred)
Introduction to Chemical Process Modeling
Problem Solving Using Computer Tools
Select one of the following:3
Engineering Economic Analysis (Preferred)
Manufacturing Fundamentals
Accounting Principles
Introduction to Finance
Fundamentals of Accounting and Finance for Non-Business Majors
BSE 249 Engineering Principles for Biological Systems 53
or CBE 250 Process Synthesis
BSE 365 Measurements and Instrumentation for Biological Systems3
BSE 308 Career Management for Engineers1
Total Credits53-60

General Program Requirements

M E 361 Thermodynamics 13
or CBE 310 Chemical Process Thermodynamics
Select one of the following: 13-4
Fluid Dynamics
Fluid Mechanics
Introductory Transport Phenomena
BSE 464 Heat and Mass Transfer in Biological Systems3
E M A 303 Mechanics of Materials3
or M E 306 Mechanics of Materials
Select a minimum of three of the following:6-9
Land Surveying Fundamentals
Renewable Energy Systems
On-Site Waste Water Treatment and Dispersal
Rheology of Foods and Biomaterials
Biorefining: Energy and Products from Renewable Resources
Food and Bioprocessing Operations
Sediment and Bio-Nutrient Engineering and Management
Irrigation and Drainage Systems Design
Engineering Principles of Agricultural Machinery
Engineering Principles of Off-Road Vehicles
Small Watershed Engineering
Food and Pharmaceutical Separations
Select a minimum of 9 credits of 300 level or above non-BSE engineering courses9
Total Credits27-31

Technical Electives

Select courses from one or more of the following four technical elective categories to bring the total number of credits in the General Program Area or in the selected specialization area to 43. See the BSE Undergraduate Student Handbook for a list of recommended technical electives for various areas of specialization.

A. Introduction to Engineering Courses (freshmen only)

INTEREGR 170 Design Practicum3
BSE 170 Product Design Practicum2

B. Independent Study/Instruction Courses

CALS or CoE courses with a 001, 299, 399, or 699 course number.  No more than 3 credits of coursework in this category can be used to meet technical elective requirements.

C. Upper-Level Courses

Part 1. Upper-Level Engineering Courses

This includes BSE courses not taken to meet other curricular requirements. This does not include independent study/instruction courses.

Any Engineering course numbered 300 or above
E M A 202 Dynamics3
or M E 240 Dynamics

Part 2. Upper-Level Science Courses

This includes BSE courses not taken to meet other curricular requirements. This does not include independent study/instruction courses.

Advanced biological, natural, and physical science courses (i.e., courses with a B, N, or P designation)
CHEM 341 Elementary Organic Chemistry3
CHEM 342 Elementary Organic Chemistry Laboratory1
CHEM 343 Introductory Organic Chemistry3
CHEM 344 Introductory Organic Chemistry Laboratory2
CHEM 345 Intermediate Organic Chemistry3
CHEM/​M S & E  421 Polymeric Materials3
AGRONOMY/ATM OCN/SOIL SCI 532 Environmental Biophysics3

D. Lower-Level Science and Engineering Courses, Breadth Courses

Elementary and intermediate biological, natural and physical science courses except elementary and intermediate math courses; College of Engineering courses with a 100 or 200 level designation; College of Agricultural and Life Sciences courses, Institute of Environmental Studies courses, and/or School of Business courses. Independent study/instruction courses cannot be counted in this category. No more than 12 credits of coursework in this category can be used to meet technical elective requirements.


BSE 508 Biological Systems Engineering Design Practicum I2
BSE 509 Biological Systems Engineering Design Practicum II 13
Fundamentals of Engineering Exam 1

University Degree Requirements

Total Degree To receive a bachelor's degree from UW–Madison, students must earn a minimum of 120 degree credits. The requirements for some programs may exceed 120 degree credits. Students should consult with their college or department advisor for information on specific credit requirements.
Residency Degree candidates are required to earn a minimum of 30 credits in residence at UW–Madison. "In residence" means on the UW–Madison campus with an undergraduate degree classification. “In residence” credit also includes UW–Madison courses offered in distance or online formats and credits earned in UW–Madison Study Abroad/Study Away programs.
Quality of Work Undergraduate students must maintain the minimum grade point average specified by the school, college, or academic program to remain in good academic standing. Students whose academic performance drops below these minimum thresholds will be placed on academic probation.
  1. The ability to analyze systems, components and processes. This includes: the ability to apply knowledge of mathematics, science, and engineering fundamentals; the ability to use the techniques and tools of modern engineering practice; the ability to identify, formulate, and solve engineering problems.
  2. The ability to create a system, component, or process to meet desired needs within realistic constraints such as economic, environmental, social, political, ethical, health and safety, manufacturability, and sustainability.
  3. The ability to formulate and conduct basic investigations such as laboratory experiments, prototype tests, field trials, computer simulations and market analyses.
  4. The ability to identify important resources, and to retrieve, interpret, analyze and critique information for use in solving engineering problems and conducting basic investigations.
  5. The ability to communicate effectively. This includes: the ability to effectively orally communicate; the ability to write in a clear, concise, grammatically correct and organized manner; the ability to document work activities and properly archive information; the ability to develop appropriate illustrations including hand sketches, computer generated drawings/graphs and pictures.
  6. An understanding of professional and ethical responsibility.
  7. The ability to function on multidisciplinary teams.
  8. The broad education necessary to understand and assess the impact of engineering solutions in a global, economic, environmental, and societal context.
  9. Recognition of the need, and the ability to engage in lifelong learning.
  10. Knowledge of contemporary issues.

Four-year plan

Sample Biological Systems Engineering Four-Year Plan—General Program

MATH 2215MATH 2224
Biological Science Course3I SY E 3133
CHEM 10915COMP SCI 3103
General Education Course3BSE 170 or INTEREGR 1702-3
 LSC 100 (or other Comm A)3
 16 15-16
Total Credits 31-32
E M A 2013BSE 3493
MATH 2344MATH 3203
BSE 2493M E 3063
BSE 2703PHYSICS 2025
General Education Course3BSE 3081
 16 15
Total Credits 31
M E 3613INTEREGR 397 (or other COMM B)3
BSE Course3M E 3633
STAT 3243BSE 5082
300 level or higher non-BSE engineering course3BSE Course3
Technical Elective Course3General Education Course6
General Education Course3BSE 3653
 18 20
Total Credits 38
BSE 5093BSE 4643
BSE Course3General Education Course3
Technical Electives4300 level or higher non-BSE engineering course3
General Education Course3Free Elective Course3
300 level or higher non-BSE engineering course3Technical Electives4
 16 16
Total Credits 32

Sample Biological Systems Engineering Four-Year Plan—Food and Bioprocess Engineering Specialization–BioProcess Engineering Track

MATH 2215COMP SCI 3103
CHEM 10915MATH 2224
LSC 100 (or other Comm A)3BSE 170 or INTEREGR 1702-3
General Education Course3MICROBIO 101
 16 14-15
Total Credits 30-31
BSE 249 or CBE 2503BSE 3493
MATH 2344MATH 3203
CHEM 3413INTEREGR 397 (or other COMM B)3
E M A 2013PHYSICS 2025
BSE 2703BSE 3081
 16 15
Total Credits 31
M E 3613BSE 5082
BSE/​ENVIR ST  3673BSE 3643
BIOCHEM 5013M E 363 or CBE 3203-4
STAT 3243Technical Electives3
General Education Course3BSE 3653
 General Education Courses3
 15 17-18
Total Credits 32-33
BSE 4613BSE 4643
BSE 5093General Education Courses6
BSE 4603BSE Breadth Requirement3
Technical Electives2-3Free Elective Course3
General Education Course3 
I SY E 3133 
 17-18 15
Total Credits 32-33

Sample Biological Systems Engineering Four-Year Plan—Food and Bioprocess Engineering Specialization–Food Engineering Track

CHEM 10915COMP SCI 3103
LSC 100 (or other Comm A)3BSE 170 or INTEREGR 1702-3
General Education Course3MATH 2224
 I SY E 3133
 16 15-16
Total Credits 31-32
BSE 249 or CBE 2503BSE 3493
MATH 2344General Education Course3
E M A 2013MATH 3203
BSE 2703PHYSICS 2025
CHEM 3413BSE 3081
 16 15
Total Credits 31
FOOD SCI 4103BSE 3653
M E 361 or CBE 3103BSE 5082
INTEREGR 397 (or other COMM B)3M E 363 or CBE 3203-4
STAT 3243BSE 3643
 15 14-15
Total Credits 29-30
FOOD SCI 5324General Education Courses6
BSE 5093BSE Breadth Requirement3
General Education Course3BSE 4643
BSE 4613Technical Elective3
Technical Electives3-4Free Elective Course3
 16-17 18
Total Credits 34-35

Sample Biological Systems Engineering Four-Year Plan—Machinery Systems Engineering Specialization

MATH 2215MATH 2224
CHEM 10915PHYSICS 2025
LSC 100 (or other Comm A)3BSE 170 or INTEREGR 1702-3
General Education Course3M E 2313
 COMP SCI 3103
 16 17-18
Total Credits 33-34
MATH 2344M E 3613
General Education Course3M E 3063
E M A 2013M E/​E M A  3071
Biological Science Course3STAT 3243
BSE 2493BSE 3493
 E M A 2023
 BSE 3081
 16 17
Total Credits 33
BSE/​M E  4753M E 3403
MATH 3203BSE/​M E  4763
M E 3633INTEREGR 397 (or other COMM B)3
I SY E 3133M E 3133
BSE 2703BSE 5082
 BSE 3653
 15 17
Total Credits 32
BSE 5093General Education Courses6
BSE Breadth Requirement3Technical Electives9
Technical Elective5 
M E 3423 
 14 15
Total Credits 29

Sample Biological Systems Engineering Four-Year Plan—Natural Resources and Environment Specialization

MATH 2215MATH 2224
CHEM 10915COMP SCI 3103
LSC 100 (or other Comm A)3SOIL SCI/​ENVIR ST/​GEOG  23023
General Education Course3BSE 170 or INTEREGR 1702-3
 Biological Sciences Course3
 16 15-16
Total Credits 31-32
E M A 2013STAT 3243
MATH 2344BSE 3493
BSE 2493PHYSICS 2025
BSE 2703BSE 4723
BSE 2011BSE 3081
General Education Course3 
 17 15
Total Credits 32
MATH 3203INTEREGR 397 (or other COMM B)3
BSE 47332E M A 3033
CIV ENGR 3103BSE 5082
I SY E 3133General Education Courses3
Technical Elective3BSE 3653
 16 17
Total Credits 33
BSE 5093Technical Electives6
M E 3613General Education Courses6
Technical Elective3Free Elective Course3
BSE Breadth Requirement3 
General Education Course3 
 15 15
Total Credits 30


All students are assigned an advisor when they join the department. Freshmen and other pre-biological systems engineering students work with a professional staff advisor. Once full admission requirements are met, students transition to a faculty advisor in their specialization area. All students are encouraged to outline a degree plan soon after declaring the major. Curriculum checklists for each track have been developed to assist students in this process. Many BSE courses are offered only once each year, which must be considered as part of the planning process. Student plans may vary based on previous coursework, plans for study abroad or certificate interest, co-op semesters, and individual interests. Prospective students should contact the department at or 608-262-3310 for more information. 


Solve. Create. Invent. Sustain.

Biological Systems engineers combine their knowledge of life sciences, agriculture, and technology, with engineering problem-solving skills to address many of the most pressing problems facing the world today: providing safe and nutritious food, generating renewable energy, and preserving the natural environment.

If you like hands-on problem solving, you should consider Biological Systems Engineering (BSE) as your major.

Graduates can expect to find biological and agricultural engineering careers in a wide range of agencies and industries solving problems in many different areas. Graduates work in career fields associated with the growth, harvest, transportation, processing and storage of food, feedstuffs, biomass for energy production and forestry products. This includes, but is not limited to, jobs:

  • designing and managing bio-energy systems, greenhouses, and food processing plants
  • designing animal housing and environmental control systems
  • developing irrigation and drainage systems
  • protecting soils, and air and water quality
  • designing and running wastewater treatment and waste management operations
  • designing off-road equipment for agricultural production and material handling.

Job opportunities for BSE graduates remain plentiful and show no signs of decreasing given (1) the increase in world population and corresponding increasing need for food, fiber and renewable energy, (2) the measurable shortage of highly trained technical personnel in the United States, and (3) the constantly expanding emphasis on protection and conservation of natural resources.


Robert Anex, Christopher Choi, Sundaram Gunasekaran, Awad Hanna, Krishnapuram Karthikeyan, Xuejun Pan, Douglas Reinemann, Troy Runge (chair), John Shutske, Kevin Shinners, Anita Thompson

Associate Professors

Rebecca Larson, Paul Stoy

Assistant Professors

Matt Digman, Brian Luck, Zhou Zhang


Department Administrator: Susan Reinen
Student Services: Betsy Wood
Payroll: Pam Spahn
Financial: Terry Meyer

Through our curriculum, BSE students have opportunities for many high-impact learning experiences including hands-on lab courses, involvement in student organizations, and BSE’s capstone design classes. Introductory engineering courses and career management courses are built into the curriculum to make sure you have a community to succeed both at UW–Madison and after you graduate.

Beyond traditional classes, our students work or perform independent study with professors not only in BSE but throughout the campus. Many campus labs and shops need students who know how to design and build systems, skills at which you will excel through your experiences in BSE. Outside the university, BSE students can take advantage of internships and co-ops, but are also in high demand for programs such as Peace Corps and Engineers without Borders. BSE has an active student organization ASABE, where students network with professionals and provide service projects to the community.

As a BSE student, you will be proud that you are contributing to the social and economic well-being of Wisconsin and beyond by designing solutions to feed and fuel the world in a sustainable manner. Many of our students go on to work in the following areas:

  • Machinery systems that support the agricultural production sector including precision agriculture, cultural and processing technology, and logistics for crop and animal production with a focus on dairy facilities and milking technology.
  • Natural resource systems that support both agricultural producers and environmental agencies in the areas of air and water quality, and waste mitigation and utilization.
  • Food production systems that support the food industry striving for improvements in food processing, safety, and security.
  • Bioprocessing systems that support bioenergy and bioproducts industries including biomass production and logistics systems, biomass conversion technologies, and forest products.

Or, you may take the skills you learn through your experiences at BSE and apply them to a brand new challenge. We are excited to see what you will do.


All BSE students are encouraged to apply annually for department and CALS scholarships through the Wisconsin Scholarship Hub (WiSH). Each year the BSE department selects more than two dozen outstanding students to receive financial support through scholarships. 


The Biological Systems Engineering Shop is dedicated to providing BSE students a hands-on experience with machining equipment found throughout the production sector of industry. The shop, located at 540 Elm Drive, is open to all BSE students who have completed the shop safety form (renewed annually) and have read and understood the Shop Rules and Regulations. In addition, a yearly refresher is required which consists of watching the shop safety presentation and completing a short, yearly safety quiz. Whether you have never worked in a shop before, or already feel at home working with this type of machinery, we welcome you to the BSE Shop and want to make you feel comfortable in this learning environment.

BSE students are welcome to learn various machining and metal fabrication techniques as well as woodworking skills. These skills are aimed at improving students’ understanding of the design, fabrication, and assembly processes through one-on-one training and hands-on operation of the machines—before they enter the workforce. To operate any of the shop machines, students must first be authorized by completing the online Canvas course and provide a one-on-one, hands-on operation with the shop supervisor to demonstrate understanding of the machine’s controls and capabilities. To maintain a safe work environment, the shop is under 24-hour video surveillance. For additional details, please see Shop Info for Students

CAE Computer Lab

A dedicated student computer lab in room 217 of the Agricultural Engineering Building offers 10 computer workstations and space for group work. These machines have the same software packages as those found in Computer Aided Engineering labs on the Engineering campus. A CAE printer is also provided.

The B1 Lounge

In the basement of the Agricultural Engineering Building is a large room with multiple tables and chairs that can be used for group study or individual work. Department-wide social events are also held here. A microwave oven and vending machines are available for student use.


Accredited by the Engineering Accreditation Commission of ABET,

Note: Undergraduate Program Educational Objectives and Student Outcomes are made publicly available at the Departmental website. (In this Guide, the program's Student Outcomes are designated by our campus as "Learning Outcomes.")