The capstone provides Biological Engineering students with hands-on, design experience while working with a project sponsor.

In their 4th or final year, Biological Engineering students complete a culminating design experience in a two-class sequence (BE 460W and BE 466W) during the fall and spring semesters. Senior design projects can be sponsored by faculty, industry, or other organizations as shown on the list of previous projects. This gives sponsors a great opportunity to have real problems addressed by bright and enthusiastic students, and it gives the students a great opportunity to learn more about how real-world challenges are solved. Contact Jeffrey Catchmark with questions about sponsoring a project or to discuss project ideas.

Timeline for Projects


Complete project submission form for:

Projects should require students to apply their engineering skills to solve a design challenge. Project success depends on sponsor engagement and a clear objective, which should be detailed in the project description in the submission form (see sample project descriptions.) Student teams can be formed from one or more of the following specialization areas:

  • Agricultural Engineering (advanced power and machinery systems, precision agriculture, off-road equipment, biomass handling/processing systems, design of wood structures and composite materials)
  • Food and Biological Processing Engineering (process design and innovation associated with food, vitamin and food supplements, pharmaceuticals, renewable energy, and bioproducts)
  • Natural Resource Engineering (water quality protection, soil erosion control, green infrastructure for stormwater management, stream restoration)


External (industry) sponsors receive a request for payment for project fees. For external, for-profit sponsors, project funds are processed as gifts and are non-refundable. Fees are requested to be paid as soon as possible and definitely by the end of September. During the first week of the fall semester (end of August), student teams are formed and matched to projects.


Student teams complete the first course in the capstone design sequence (BE 460W) and develop a design project proposal. In BE 460W, teams learn about the design process, team management and maintenance, development of target specifications, intellectual property and patents, economic analysis, and approaches to innovative thinking. The final proposal documents customer needs, design specifications, and preliminary design concepts.

Sponsors are expected to meet with student teams (as needed), facilitate site visits (as needed), connect students to resources (as needed), and provide feedback on project proposal. Student teams will provide weekly e-mail updates to sponsors. Project proposal will include an estimate of expected expenses. In the event that project scope exceeds $1000 budget provided by project support costs, sponsor and student team can discuss reduction in scope or request of additional funds.


Student teams start the second course in the capstone design sequence (BE 466W) and continue work on their projects. Teams e-mail weekly progress reports to sponsor. Weekly interaction between student teams and sponsors is expected. Establishing a regular meeting schedule is encouraged. For example, the team e-mails a progress report to sponsor every week and meets with sponsor every two weeks. Student teams complete design specification report, which typically adds an engineering analysis, a detailed design, bill of materials, and test procedure to the proposal. The design specifications report is submitted for sponsor feedback. Student teams present project progress at poster session that coincides with Industrial and Professional Advisory Council (IPAC) visit.


Students complete and test the detailed design, continuing weekly communication with sponsor. Sponsors are expected to provide feedback on final project report. Final deliverables to sponsors include the following: project report, results, data, analysis, and hardware and/or software (if applicable).

Project Budget

The budget model for a project sponsored by a for-profit, external organization is summarized below. Project budget is paid as a gift to Penn State and can not be refunded.


  • Project overhead fee: $500 (for external, for-profit organization)
  • Project support costs: $1000
  • Administrative fee (NDA): $250 (nondisclosure agreement, if applicable)
  • Administrative fee (IPA): $250 (intellectual property agreement, if applicable)

Administrative fees for nondisclosure and intellectual property agreements are only assessed if those agreements are required by the sponsor. Project support costs will be put toward software use, facility use, travel (e.g. site visit), and consumables.

Confidentiality and Intellectual Property

Sponsors may require students to sign a nondisclosure agreement to protect unpatented information or to avoid public disclosure of information or an invention. The university Nondisclosure Agreement requires students to protect confidential information provided by the sponsor. There is a $250 administrative fee associated with the execution of this agreement.

Undergraduate students own all intellectual property they develop as a part of their coursework according to Penn State policy IPG02. They can, however, sign over their intellectual property if requested. The university Intellectual Property Agreement will provide the sponsor with ownership of all intellectual property that is developed during the course of the project. There is a $250 administration fee associated with the execution of this agreement. The execution of a Nondisclosure Agreement is also required.

Due to the complexity of processing these agreements, no negotiation of the terms of these agreements is possible.