University of Rochester

State Approves Undergraduate Program in Biomedical Engineering

May 6, 1997

The State of New York has approved an undergraduate program in biomedical engineering at the University of Rochester. The new program, which will begin accepting students in the fall, is expected to add to the development of biomedical engineering as a research and teaching strength in the University's School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS).

"Rochester became a biomedical engineering pioneer in 1961, when we won one of the first research grants ever awarded in the field," SEAS Dean Duncan Moore says. "We've maintained a very strong presence in biomedical engineering ever since."

"This is a rigorous program that builds upon the strengths of Rochester's highly regarded engineering and medical schools," adds Jack Mottley, associate dean for SEAS undergraduate programs and associate professor of electrical engineering. "We expect it to attract a very high caliber of student."

Biomedical engineering, where engineers and physicians combine engineering and medical knowledge to solve medical problems and improve human health, has flourished recently as the population ages and engineers continue to discover new ways to use engineering approaches to understand and aid processes within the human body. Educational programs in the field have enjoyed a boom in the last decade as well because of a new idealism among students coming out of high school, many of whom see biomedical engineering as a way to use technology to help mankind.

Rochester already offers an undergraduate minor and certificate in biomedical engineering, as well as a graduate program that won state approval last summer. Eventually, Mottley expects that about 40 students per year, or five percent of each graduating class, will choose to pursue the new Bachelor of Science degree in biomedical engineering. Schools that now offer formal undergraduate programs in biomedical engineering, including Duke, Johns Hopkins, Rice, and the University of Pennsylvania, have found that about one-third of graduates go on to medical school, one-third go to other graduate schools, and one-third take jobs in industry after graduation.

"Several features distinguish Rochester's biomedical engineering program," says Diane Dalecki, a research associate and assistant professor of electrical engineering and undergraduate advisor for the program. "The curriculum includes the prerequisites for medical school. It also provides the option of a semester spent working in industry and allows students who choose to stay for a fifth year to earn a B.S. degree in a second engineering field in addition to biomedical engineering."

The University received a $986,000 grant in November from the Whitaker Foundation to support its Ph.D. program in biomedical engineering. The grant provides for the creation of a new teaching laboratory where students will learn techniques in molecular, cell, and tissue engineering. Undergraduate and graduate students alike will use the lab to conduct experiments in topics such as the ability of blood vessels to withstand physical stress, or the biomechanics of single blood cells and their role in blood flow and viscosity.

Rochester's biomedical engineering program draws on three dozen faculty members representing all four SEAS engineering departments (chemical, electrical, and mechanical engineering, and optics) and pharmacology and physiology, dermatology, anesthesiology, and other departments at the School of Medicine and Dentistry, as well as researchers at the Rochester Center for Biomedical Ultrasound. The Whitaker grant offers funds for the hiring of three additional faculty members with expertise in biomedical engineering, who will teach the few courses in the undergraduate major not already offered by the University.