Overview of Capstone Opportunities

All bioengineering undergraduates engage in significant engineering design projects during their senior year, in which they devise a system, component, or process to meet desired needs and specifications within realistic constraints. Students apply previous coursework in basic sciences, mathematics, and engineering sciences to develop creative and iterative solutions, while considering risks and making trade-offs during the design process.
The Capstone design project should produce something that fulfills a societal need, can be implemented by another person or organization, and involves biology or medicine in the problem or the solution. Students may deliver a wide variety of products, including but not limited to software, electronic instrumentation, cell lines, sensors, surgical tools, prosthetics and implantable devices. The capstone project may also produce a novel or optimized process, procedure or protocol that can be applied in research, industry or clinical practice. The Department offers two tracks for fulfilling the Capstone requirement: Track A – an individually-based project usually executed in the lab of a faculty member, or Track B – a team-based project usually focused on solving a medical problem and mentored by a clinician.

Individual project that integrates research and design

BIOEN 401, Bioengineering Capstone Proposal (1-credit) plus 9 credits of BIOEN 402, Bioengineering Capstone Research and Design

Please note: Only students that plan to complete Track A Capstone must enroll in BIOEN 401!

If you intend to complete the Nanomolecular Engineering Option, OR apply to the BS/MS program, you must complete a BIOEN 402 project.

Design criteria for Track A

Although the sole product of the design project should not be knowledge, the capstone design project may be a well-defined component within a larger project for which the goal is knowledge. BIOEN 402 also often includes bioengineering research, in which students engage in activities that teach and assess certain engineering capabilities and an understanding of biology or medicine.  For a capstone project to qualify for engineering credit, the Department of Bioengineering considers it sufficient that the project allows the student to demonstrate all of the capabilities listed below.  The project proposal (prepared in BIOEN 401) should state how the research and design project (BIOEN 402) will provide the experience needed to develop these capabilities:

  1. an ability to identify, formulate, and solve complex engineering problems by applying principles of engineering, science, and mathematics
  2. an ability to apply engineering design to produce solutions that meet specified needs with consideration of public health, safety, and welfare, as well as global, cultural, social, environmental, and economic factors
  3. an ability to recognize ethical and professional responsibilities in engineering situations and make informed judgments, which must consider the impact of engineering solutions in global, economic, environmental, and societal contexts
  4. an ability to develop and conduct appropriate experimentation, analyze and interpret data, and use engineering judgment to draw conclusions
  5. an ability to apply mathematics (including statistics) and engineering to solve bio/biomedical engineering problems. Preparation on this topic via Capstone should emphasize statistical analysis when appropriate to support conclusions.
  6. an ability to analyze, model, design, and realize bio/biomedical engineering devices, systems, components, or processes

Students’ acquisition of these learning objectives should be assessed via their senior project report, and by direct observation by the faculty advisors, as appropriate.  The grading rubric for 402 should be used as a guide when assessing the learning objectives and assigning course grades.

While conducting the design project, it is expected that students will undertake enough research to determine the state of the art in their field, and perhaps to explore new physical principles that can be applied to their design.  It is also permissible that some time out of the year-long capstone course be devoted to pure research with direct or tangential relevance to the design project.  It is expected that no more than 40% of the student’s effort be devoted to such pure research goals.

Engineering standards:  Projects must incorporate relevant engineering design standards.  “Design standards” are documents that describe the best practices for designing a variety of devices, materials, and processes. Some are considered to be legally binding requirements (to be followed by any Professional Engineer), while others are considered to be guidance. Some are freely available to the public, while others are sold by the responsible organization.

Numerous regulatory agencies and standards organizations collaborate to establish the accepted standards for medical devices/products.  Standard-setting activities include the development of performance characteristics, characterization and testing methodologies, manufacturing practices, product standards, scientific protocols, compliance criteria, ingredient specifications, labeling, or other technical or policy criteria.

The regulatory agencies and standards organizations integral to establishing the standards and monitoring compliance with those standards include, but are not limited to, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Joint Commission on Accreditation of Health Care Organizations (JC), Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments (CLIA), and the International Organization of Standardization (ISO), International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC), and ASTM International.

The type of device/product determines the agency (or agencies) to whose regulation it is subject.  In consultation with their advisors, students need to perform research to determine which standards are applicable to their projects.  Resources are provided below:

Standards Resources

Standards Handout for Students

UW Libraries Guide on Standards. – This guide answers the questions: what is a standard? why are they important? how do I find them?

Capstone course syllabi and grading rubrics

BIOEN 402 syllabus report rubric lab work rubric

Team design/build course

BIOEN 404 and BIOEN 405 (7 credits total), plus 3 additional credits of Approved Engineering Electives. Note students in this track will also need to take three additional W credits to satisfy UW writing requirements.

BIOEN 404 and BIOEN 405 form a two-quarter design sequence, running through winter and spring quarters.  Students work in 2-5 person teams to design, create, and test a system, device, or process that addresses an unresolved medical or health-related problem.  Projects are sought from the broader health care community, including UW Medicine, Seattle Children’s Hospital, and local industry.  Where possible, the faculty, clinicians, or industry representatives provide mentorship for student groups.  Student teams generate oral and written project proposals during Winter quarter, and a final written report and oral presentation/prototype demonstration at the end of Spring quarter.  Please note that students in this track must take 3 additional approved engineering elective credits.

The project should provide students with the experience needed to develop the following capabilities:

  1. an ability to identify, formulate, and solve complex engineering problems by applying principles of engineering, science, and mathematics
  2. an ability to apply engineering design to produce solutions that meet specified needs with consideration of public health, safety, and welfare, as well as global, cultural, social, environmental, and economic factors
  3. an ability to communicate effectively with a range of audiences
  4. an ability to recognize ethical and professional responsibilities in engineering situations and make informed judgments, which must consider the impact of engineering solutions in global, economic, environmental, and societal contexts
  5. an ability to function effectively on a team whose members together provide leadership, create a collaborative and inclusive environment, establish goals, plan tasks, and meet objectives
  6. an ability to develop and conduct appropriate experimentation, analyze and interpret data, and use engineering judgment to draw conclusions
  7. an ability to acquire and apply new knowledge as needed, using appropriate learning strategies.
  8. an ability to apply mathematics (including statistics) and engineering to solve bio/biomedical engineering problems. Preparation on this topic via Capstone should emphasize statistical analysis when appropriate to support conclusions.
  9. an ability to analyze, model, design, and realize bio/biomedical engineering devices, systems, components, or processes

Capstone course syllabi and grading rubrics

BIOEN 404 and 405 syllabus general rubric team design 404 405

Advisor, co-advisor and student responsibilities


The capstone advisor should be the faculty member most closely associated with the goals of the project, and the one who will work most closely with the student. If the advisor is not core or adjunct faculty then a core faculty co-advisor is required and the student will be registered under the core faculty advisor. The core advisor accepts responsibility for assuming supervision of the student should the situation with the primary advisor fail.

The capstone advisor is responsible for helping the student develop a project (usually during winter quarter), for reviewing and approving the written capstone proposal (spring quarter), for directly supervising the student’s work or assigning an immediate supervisor (normally a post-doc or PhD student), for giving periodic feedback to the student about his or her progress, and for grading the capstone project (402) according to the associated grading rubric.

The capstone advisor is responsible for turning in a grade promptly so as not to jeopardize the student’s graduation or financial aid. (See N grades, submitting capstone grades, and submitting a change of grade)

Bioengineering Co-Advisor

The Bioengineering co-advisor is a member of the core Bioengineering faculty.

The Bioengineering co-advisor is responsible for:

  1. Reviewing and approving the written capstone proposal
  2. Providing guidance to the primary advisor, if necessary
  3. Reaching agreement with the primary advisor on the course grade
  4. Submitting grades in a timely way (because the student will be registered under the Bioengineering co-advisor) ;
  5. Representing the department to make sure the content and level of the project are appropriate.
  6. Assuming responsibility for the student should the situation with the primary advisor not work out.

Expectations prior to 401:

In Spring quarter of Junior year, each capstone student must, in BIOEN 401, author a complete proposal for a year’s work in the faculty advisor’s lab. Their first task in 401 will be to write a complete Statement of Work. The following year, they need to be successful in the proposed work, or it will jeopardize their degree progress. While they will need to write the actual statement of work, there is no curricular requirement regarding independence in the process of identifying the project goals. Indeed, the project goals must meet the ABET design requirements, the needs of the lab that is funding the supplies and training personnel, and the student’s interest. It is up to the Faculty Advisor and the student how they work together to identify a project that meets all these needs. To be successful in writing the proposal AND completing the work, the student will need to accomplish three things prior to the start of 401.

1) Understand the techniques used in the lab and their own abilities enough to be able to plan a realistic project in the lab.
2) Establish a productive working relationship with the faculty advisor and their lab mentor (a graduate student, postdoc, research scientist/engineer, or productive Senior capstone student.)
3) Identify project goals that satisfy the ABET design requirements, the needs of the faculty advisor and the lab mentor, and their own interests. (There is no requirement that they do this independently; only the solution needs to have a degree of independence.)

These outcomes require that the student join the lab (as a summer intern, a volunteer, or for research credit), prior to spring of the Junior year, and that the faculty advisor and the lab mentor meet regularly with the student. During this time, the student should help the mentor with an existing project to learn about the techniques and scientific knowledge in the lab, read and discuss important literature, and meet regularly with faculty advisor and the mentor to discuss potential projects.

Expectations during 401:

During Spring quarter, the student will be working to prepare a detailed Capstone Proposal document, and will repeatedly need the faculty advisor’s approval of proposal sections as they are written to receive credit in the class. The first task to be completed is the approved plan of work—hence the need for that to be approved before starting 401. In the first week of the quarter, be sure to establish 1) specific expectations regarding project scope, 2) required time commitment, and 3) anticipated work schedule (i.e., is summer lab work required?, anticipated background knowledge, etc.), and 4) communication plan (i.e., notebook documentation, lab meetings, preferred communication medium, etc.).

Expectations after 401 and during 402:

By the end of BIOEN 401 in June, and throughout BIOEN 402 (Fall through June senior year), provide the student with resources, technical support, and supervision necessary to facilitate the execution of the project. This includes assuring that the pre-chosen direct mentor within advisor’s lab is working well with the undergraduate. Clarify whom the student should approach if they have questions or are struggling with project progress. Expected time commitment for faculty advisor: 30 min/week for the duration of project, and perhaps more at the beginning and the end of the project.

1) Continue to ensure that the Capstone project addresses the required ABET design requirements for BIOEN 402, and, very importantly, evaluate progress in the light of the originally-set Aims, and revise the aims as necessary to remain realistic.

2) The faculty advisor and the lab mentor must expect and review quarterly Capstone report drafts and provide feedback to student with respect to perception of progress and work quality. Expected time commitment: 1 hour of prep/reading draft, 30 minute feedback meeting – quarterly, for duration of project.

3) Provide feedback and guidance during student-initiated quarterly check-in evaluations (<15 min/quarter). At the beginning of the student’s final quarter (usually Spring quarter), in conjunction with the student and the lab mentor, identify an acceptable endpoint of the Capstone project, if other than what was described in the originally-planned Aims. Alternate endpoints are acceptable, provided they do not delay the student’s graduation date (2nd Friday of June).

Expectations after 402:

1) Grade final Capstone report and determine an overall grade for BIOEN 402 using the departmental Capstone rubric. Expected time commitment: 2 hours.
2) Report on ABET student learning outcomes at the end of BIOEN 402, via departmental survey <15 min.


The student is responsible for:

  1. Finding an appropriate capstone advisor and together developing a project
  2. Completing a project proposal in BIOEN 401 (spring quarter, junior year) for Option A
  3. Obtaining the approval of the capstone advisor(s)
  4. Setting up a work schedule that fits the lab and allows steady progress
  5. Showing respect for the lab facilities and group members, by following all lab protocols, and showing up at agreed-upon times
  6. Communicating clearly and regularly with the advisor(s) and immediate supervisor,
  7. Asking questions as needed
  8. Attending BIOEN 402 / 404/5 class meetings
  9. Reporting unresolvable issues to the academic counselor or capstone instructor
  10. Completing the agreed-upon project on time, or negotiating project and timeline changes in advance with the Advisor, subject to departmental limits
  11. Delivering the appropriate reports and presentations on time for faculty review and grading

The project proposal for 402 is written during BIOEN 401, Spring Quarter of the junior year. The student and advisor (and co-advisor, if applicable) all sign off on the proposal. BIOEN 402 proposals will be evaluated for design content.. See the criteria for design.  Proposals for Option B (BIOEN 404/405) are written during Winter quarter senior year in BIOEN 404 and are evaluated by course instructor and project mentor for design content.

Changes to project aims within a BIOEN 402 project after BIOEN 401 review

Sometimes the content of the capstone project shifts because of changes in priorities, project logistics, or staffing in the student’s laboratory. In such situations, the department has three concerns:

  1. The revised project needs to meet all capstone criteria, and the BIOE faculty advisor is responsible for determining this. As the BIOEN 401 review process has already passed, it is especially important that the revised project plan be designed so as to be in compliance with the required ABET criteria.  Please consult with capstone facilitators Chris Neils and Alyssa Taylor if there are questions.
  2. The amount of work required from the student should not be increased. We advise the student to look long and hard at what is being newly proposed to make sure the re-defined project is equivalent in workload and expected duration to what was originally proposed. In calculating workload and duration, include any new background reading, initial experiments, and training in new methods that may be required by the change. Generally the new project should be closely related to the original project so that initial work is not lost. Alternatively, the scope of the new project could be more conservative.
  3. The consensus established between the capstone advisor(s) and student about what the revisions will be should be documented (email is fine); please copy the academic counselor for the student’s file, as well as the capstone facilitators, Chris Neils and Alyssa Taylor.
Petitioning to have a project supervisor who is not Bioengineering core or adjunct faculty

Affiliate faculty and other faculty with no Bioengineering appointment may be suitable project supervisors. In such a case the student needs to find a co-advisor from the Bioengineering core faculty and submit a petition to the Student Affairs Committee (via the academic counselor).

The petition consists of:

1. A one-page form requesting the co-advising arrangement and explaining the project and the design component. The student should also attest that they discussed the pertinent parts of the Capstone help file with the primary supervisor (overview, criteria, advisor and co-advisor responsibilities, and grading).
2. Emails from both co-advisors agreeing to the advising arrangement. The academic advisor will solicit co-advisor petitions at the start of Spring Quarter via BIOEN 401.

Project time limits

BIOEN 402 must take at least 2 quarters and should not take more than 4. Whether the student begins enrolling for BIOEN 402 in Summer or Autumn Quarter, the project should be completed by the end of the following Spring Quarter and a cumulative grade should be given then.

If the project isn’t completed, the PI has the following choices:

  1. Grade the student on the work completed and submitted, according to the rubric.
  2. Approve a one-quarter extension by giving the student an Incomplete; allow the student to complete the project during summer quarter, and then grade according to the rubric and submit a change of grade. Note that the thesis must be submitted by the last day of instruction, summer quarter. No further extensions are possible at that point and a grade must be given.

If the project extends into the summer, the student’s graduation must be deferred until August. The student must inform the academic counselor so that the graduation date can be moved.

Project report due dates

The BIOEN 402 report is due the last day of class instruction of the final quarter of registration in the course.

Continuous registration

Once the independent study project is begun, students are expected to be continuously enrolled in 402  until the project is completed. Any exception would need to be approved in writing by the advisor (PI) via email to the academic counselor.

*Please note that information for BIOEN 403 is still presented here for transition from the old requirements to the new requirements, which apply starting with the class of 2019.

N grades

Both 402 and 403 are “hyphenated” courses. Faculty advisors do not give a decimal grade each quarter. Instead, they submit an “N” each quarter until the final paper is submitted.

Once the final paper is submitted, the student is graded by the appropriate grading rubric and a decimal grade is submitted. The decimal grade retroactively fills in the prior quarters.

Submitting grades

The faculty advisor submits an N grade for any student in 402 or 403, until the final paper is received. At that point the student’s work is graded according to the course grading rubric, and a decimal grade is submitted.

Co-advisors need to communicate well to avoid late grade submission, which can interfere with financial aid or delay the student’s graduation.

The deadline for online grade submission is 5 p.m. on the Tuesday following the last day of finals week.

Submitting a change of grade.

Once the grading period for the quarter has ended, grades cannot be submitted online through Catalyst Web Tools. However, change of grade requests or late submissions can be submitted through the Office of the Registrar online Grade Change form. Due to the need for manual processing for submissions through this form, it will be 2-4 business days until the new grades appear on the student record.

For questions on change of grades or late grade submission contact ugradoff@u.washington.edu.

Quarterly communication with student

Students are advised to meet with advisors at least quarterly to ask for an assessment of their progress. Advisors may find it helpful to use the BIOEN 402 grading rubric  to guide the conversation.

If there are problems with student behavior or performance (for example, not showing up in lab, not putting enough effort in at the beginning of the project), advisors are encouraged to notify the academic counselor as soon as possible.

Communicating with advisors

The student should send a summary email every week or every other week to their advisor, immediate supervisor and any co-advisor, summarizing what he/she did that week, giving any results, outlining any obstacles, and saying what he/she is planning to do about those obstacles.
Once a quarter the student should request a conversation with their advisor to review progress. The student might find the course grading rubric to be a helpful guide to this conversation. The student should take notes, and address any weaknesses.

Avoiding problems

The student can avoid the vast majority of capstone project problems by:

1. Setting up clear expectations for attendance and communication with their advisor, and then following through (e.g. showing up when promised)
2. Sending regular (at least semi-weekly) email updates to their advisor, immediate supervisor and any co-advisor
3. Asking rather than assuming
4. Allowing a lot of time for their project in the first quarter
5. Contacting the undergraduate Academic Counselor or Capstone instructors right away if problems arise

“Can I/my student be paid for my/their capstone work?”

A student may be paid for hours worked in excess of those earned for credit. For example, if the student is registered for 3 credits, the first 9 hours worked are for credit; any additional hours may be paid at the discretion of the faculty member. We do not expect students to be paid for their capstone work.

“If my 402 project extends into summer, when will my degree be posted?”

A student who extends their project into summer will graduate in August and their degree will be posted around the beginning of the second week of September.

“Should I ask for/grant an extension?”

A student should consider carefully whether a later graduation date will conflict with their post-graduation plans. Faculty should consider whether the request is reasonable. Faculty should also consider that they will be responsible for submitting a timely change of grade; failure to do so may cause delays in posting of the student’s degree. BIOEN 402 projects can only be extended one quarter.

“I granted (or I have been granted) an extension. How do I handle the grades?”

Once the final paper has been submitted and graded, the faculty member needs to submit a change of grade to change the N to the decimal grade. Changes of grade are submitted online; see the Office of the Registrar online Grade Change form.

The student should:
  1. Remind the faculty to change the grade
  2. Provide the exact course prefix, course #, quarter he/she was last registered in the course, and the exact grade he/she was originally given (usually N)
  3. Provide their legal name and student ID number

“How many hours should I expect to spend in lab?”

Most capstone students spend 15 hours a week in the lab, sometimes more, while enrolled in 402.

“When is my project paper due?”

The project thesis (402) is due the last day of instruction in the student’s final quarter of registration in that class. This is to give the advisors time to read and grade the paper and turn grades in on time. In addition to the final report, students are also expected to participate in the annual Bioengineering Capstone Symposium.

“Which option should I chose, A or B?”

Both tracks can provide great preparation for industry, medical school and other professional fields. If you intend to pursue graduate school (PhD., BS/MS, other Masters) we recommend Option A: Independent Research & Design (BIOEN 402). Option B provides the flexibility for a Fall Quarter experience beyond courses on campus, such as an internship or study abroad. This is a good subject for an advising appointment with the counselor or one of the capstone instructors. We encourage students to speak with current seniors or alumni about their capstone experiences

“Can I do both research and team design in my senior year?”

Yes, you can still participate in research in a faculty lab during your senior year and also participate in the Team Design option (Option B) to fulfill your capstone requirement. You would register only for BIOEN 404 and 405. Your participation in research would not be tied to capstone or a specific degree requirement. This is also a significant question about time management and balancing commitments. If you are considering staying in a research lab and also doing team design, please consult with an academic counselor.

“Can I change tracks?”

Switching from BIOEN 404/5 to BIOEN 402 is not permitted as the formal proposal-writing class has passed (BIOEN 401).

Changing from BIOEN 402 to BIOEN 404/5 may be allowed, within limits, but requires a petition to the Student Affairs Committee before July 1 of your senior year. The petition must provide reasons why this change is necessary and must document that the current Capstone advisor agrees to this change. The proposal generated in BIOEN 401 was an agreement between you and your advisor to execute your project, so changes to your capstone track require compelling justification. The petition process helps to ensure that students progress towards graduation and have a successful capstone experience.