LEXINGTON, Ky. (July 31, 2013) — The longstanding biomedical engineering program at the University of Kentucky is now a department within the College of Engineering.
The former Graduate Center for Biomedical Engineering officially became the Department of Biomedical Engineering on July 1, following unanimous approval by the UK Board of Trustees. David Puleo, chair of the department, says the move is a big step forward for the program.
"We have had biomedical engineering here, in one form or another, since the late 1950s," Puleo said. "Until BME degrees were formally established in the 1980s, students were nominally affiliated with some other department — primarily mechanical engineering or physiology — but their main affinities lay in the biomedical engineering program and, especially, here in Wenner-Gren Lab. By becoming a department, we take another step forward, building on the decades of achievements of our alumni, students, staff, and faculty."
Puleo says the college and the university will benefit from the enhanced stature that departmental status confers upon the program.
"Prospective students and faculty often ask us: 'Do you have a Department of Biomedical Engineering?'" he said. "Being able to answer in the affirmative will help to raise the profile of the college in this rapidly growing, highly competitive field. It also enhances the prestige of the college and the university as a whole, in general."
John Walz, dean of the College of Engineering, says the move will help to advance the goals of the college in undergraduate education, in addition to graduate study and research.
"Forming a Department of Biomedical Engineering is an important step in the continued evolution of this program at UK," Walz said. "Given our proximity to UK Chandler Hospital and the UK College of Medicine, biomedical engineering is an important growth area for our college. Having a formal department will not only help us attract the best faculty and graduate students, it will also allow us to offer undergraduate courses in this area, which are always in great demand."
As a graduate center, Biomedical Engineering was unable to tailor courses specifically to undergraduates. As a result, options for undergraduates were limited to a small number of courses that could be taken at only the upper level alongside graduate students. While there are no immediate plans to create an undergraduate major, Puleo anticipates the launch of either a minor or a certificate program, including five or six new undergraduate courses, by the Fall 2014 semester.
The discipline of biomedical engineering bridges engineering and medicine to advance health care. The history of biomedical engineering at UK began after World War II, with aeronautics research funded by the Air Force at Wenner-Gren Aeronautical Research Laboratory. At that time there was a signal shift in aeronautics research, from rotary aircraft to jet propulsion and rocketry, and it was this foundational work that would eventually lead to the creation of NASA.
Part of that research involved studying the effects on the human body of the rigors of flight, such as intense vibration or, a bit later on, transitions between terrestrial gravity and the microgravity environment of space. As was the case with computers and robotics, many advances made under the auspices of the space program in biomedical engineering proved to have useful applications here on Earth as well. And so, biomedical engineering came into its own.
Biomedical engineering at UK existed loosely as an area of graduate engineering study throughout the 1950s and 1960s. Eventually, an ad hoc committee was formed to develop a biomedical engineering program. This committee was later replaced by a Biomedical Engineering Council. By 1981, there were nine doctoral candidates, five master of science candidates and two postdoctoral fellows participating in the biomedical engineering program.
In 1985, the program was formally constituted as the Center for Biomedical Engineering, under the jurisdiction of The Graduate School at UK. Graduate programs leading to master's and doctoral degrees were approved by the Kentucky State Council on Higher Education in January 1988. Oversight of the center passed from The Graduate School to the College of Engineering in 2010.
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