About Us

Biochemical Engineering has become a distinct discipline after World War II, due to the dramatically growing importance of antibiotics, amino acids, vitamins, enzymes and other products of industrial biotechnology. The traditional Chemical Engineering training could not provide the necessary expertise in biology required by the new profession, thus the syllabi of the two engineering trainings have become increasingly separated. In the industrialized countries, Biochemical Engineering has by now become a standard and popular form of university-level training in the educational portfolios at the faculties of technology.

In Hungary, industrial microbiology and biotechnology traditionally belong to the best-developed fields of the chemical industry. As early as in the 1960s it was recognized that whatever skills and expertise were obtained by the chemical and mechanical engineering students, a lengthy post-graduate learning was needed to get the necessary understanding of the (micro)biological systems and processes. As a consequence, a post-graduate programme called „Engineer-biologist” was organized within the Postgraduate Institute for Engineers of the Technical University of Budapest, where young engineers from the pharmaceutical, fermentation and food industry could obtain up-to-date knowledge in applied microbiology, genetics, biochemistry and bioanalytics. This post-graduate course turned into an independent five-years long university-level education programme in 1975, with its name changed first to Biologist-Engineering and later to Biochemical Engineering. The first degrees in Biochemical Engineering based on credit system were issued in 1998; by then, the programme was considered a massively popular education form, one that resulted in an extraordinary high employment rate of the graduates. Today, in the Hungarian pharmaceutical and biotech sector, one can find more professionals trained as biochemical engineers than any other brands of engineers or scientists.

When the Hungarian higher education system adopted the so-called Bologna system, the Biochemical Engineering curriculum – similarly to almost all other technical engineering trainings – was to comprise of a seven-semesters long Bachelor (B.Sc.) and a four-semesters long Master (M.Sc.) course. The administrative process of accreditation for both the B.Sc. and M.Sc. programmes were accomplished by the Faculty of Chemical Engineering and Biochemical Engineering in the Technical University of Budapest.

Although formal training in Biochemical Engineering in Hungary occured only at the Technical University of Budapest, there is a 25 years long history of successful education and research in biochemical engineering at the University of Debrecen (and its predecessor, the Kossuth Lajos University).
The Department of Microbiology and Biotechnology was established in 1985 under the leadership of Professor Attila Szentirmai, who previously had been managing the Microbiology Department of the Pharmaceutical Research Institute in Budapest, and was a prominent lecturer and organizer of the Postgraduate Institute of Engineers as well. Research and education at the new department at the early period was supported by several representatives of the Hungarian pharmaceutical industry: Sanofi-Aventis (formerly known as Chinoin Pharmaceuticals), TEVA (formerly known as Biogal Pharmaceuticals) and Richter Gedeon Pharmaceuticals (formerly known as Kőbánya Pharmaceuticals) lend equipments and instruments, while ministries and other governmental bodies provided financial support. The other educational unit also involved in biotechnology in Debrecen was the Department of Genetics, whose staff – led by Professor Matthias Sipiczki – gave lectures and practical courses in gene technology and microbial strain improvement.

Building on this professional base and recognizing the increasing hunger of the labour market for technical engineers in the North-eastern regions of Hungary, the Faculty of Science and Technology of the University of Debrecen made a decision about launching a full-fledged training programme in Biochemical Engineering. Following authorization by the Hungarian Accreditation Committee in October 2005, the first 14 students of the Bachelor course started their studies in September 2006. By today, based on the entrance score of the students, Biochemical Engineering has become the most prominent Bachelor programme of the Faculty of Science and Technology, while the number of students who apply regularly exceeds the limit of 50 counts several times over.

The next milestone in the history of Biochemical Engineering education in Debrecen was the accreditation of the Master of Science (M.Sc.) program in early 2009 (ours is only the second Biochemical Engineering Master program in Hungary next to the one at the Technical University of Budapest). The first Bachelor degrees in Debrecen were issued at the beginning of 2010; all the students applied to our Master program that, for the first time in Debrecen, started in February 2010. Since then, the number of students in the Master course increased to more than 50; apart from biochemical engineers with B.Sc. degrees, several alumni of the chemical engineering, environmental engineering, agricultural engineering and biology B.Sc. courses also joined. Due to their excellent scores at the exams, many of our Master students earned the opportunity to prepare their thesis work at various chemical, biotechnological, fermentation and pharmaceutical companies, occasionally backed by prestigious corporate grants. After a successful final exam, our first 7 Master students graduated in January 2012 (this was the first time that technical engineers of any type graduated in the Faculty of Science and Technology in the University of Debrecen in the Master level). The quality of the training is clearly indicated by the fact that each of our graduates was able to get jobs in their profession in a short period of time (for details, see Staff - Alumni section on our website). Currently, the Biochemical Engineering Bachelor and Master level programs run with a combined number of over 220 students.

The success of the training and the growing number of students interested prompted the leadership of the University of Debrecen to establish a so-called "home department" for the Biochemical Engineering community. Accordingly, the Department of Biochemical Engineering was commenced on the 1st of July, 2011, with four full-time lecturers, headed by Assoc. Professor Levente Karaffa. The Department of Biochemical Engineering is responsible for providing educational and research platforms for students interested in the engineering aspects of biotechnology, for representing and managing the training programmes in Biochemical Engineering (both at Bachelor and Master levels) at the University of Debrecen, as well as promoting and excelling in the science of industrial biotechnology, in the closest possible cooperation with the Hungarian biotech sector.

About the laboratory