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Science & Tech

A milestone for biomedical engineering

Department marks five-year expansion

The College of Engineering biomedical engineering department on June 30 officially ends a five-year period of expansion fueled by a $14 million Whitaker Leadership Award received in 2001.

The department opened new core facilities — its last task in fulfilling the terms of the award — with a reception June 21.

“We sit together with great facilities, great faculty, having spent a great grant, in the wonderful position of being one of the top programs in BME,” said University President Robert A. Brown. “The Whitaker Foundation grant has been a boost in propelling us forward.”

In the last five years, the Whitaker Leadership Award has helped Boston University reach “the cusp of having a global impact,” said Kenneth Lutchen, an ENG professor and BME chairman. “With our human — and facilities — firepower, we are poised to really understand and impact human life.”

Brown said the conclusion of the award “marks a pivotal point in the history of BU and biomedical engineering at BU,” adding that the Whitaker Foundation grant has been instrumental in establishing Boston University and its biomedical engineering program as one of the best, nationally and globally.

The Whitaker Foundation, named for the late scientist and inventor Uncas A. Whitaker, established its Leadership Awards in the late 1990s for “institutions that have already demonstrated national leadership in biomedical engineering and have articulated a clear and exciting vision for enhancing their leadership position.”

Under the deanship first of Charles DeLisi, BU’s Arthur G. B. Metcalf Professor of Science and Engineering and senior associate provost for bioscience, and then David K. Campbell, now BU provost, the University applied for a Whitaker award and was one of only three institutions to win one. The foundation gave BU $14 million in 2001, with an $18 million cost-share investment from the University.

The grant was used in part to build the Life Science and Engineering Building at 24 Cummington St., as well as for hiring 12 new faculty members with secondary appointments in eight other departments, among them ophthalmology, pharmacology, physics, and genetics and genomics. The College of Engineering also built laboratories and created dynamic cross-disciplinary and innovative courses with the money. The catch, Lutchen said, was that they had to get it done “soup-to-nuts, in five years.”

Last month, BU completed the implementation of the award. The June 21 event officially opened the BioInterface Technologies Units, the Micro/Nano BioImaging Facility, the Micro/Nano Biosystems Fabrication and Teaching Facility (all at 44 Cummington St.) and the BME Computational Simulation Facility (in the Life Science and Engineering Building).

 “With the tremendous effort of BME faculty and staff and the BU administration, we have completed the project on time and on budget,” said Lutchen.

Brown was impressed, he said, with the BME department, which has kept abreast of developments in the field as biomedical engineering has become “more molecular in nature: it has transitioned from bones and circuits to understanding life and life sciences.”

“Now we’re just moving forward,” said Matthew E. Barber, BME department director. “We’ll have other initiatives that will come down the road because of this.”

 “With all that strength and financial support, we can do fantastic things,” Brown said at the conclusion of the June 21 ceremony. “BME will continue to be a jewel in the crown of Boston University.”