Whitaker Foundation funds Washington University biomedical engineering facility

November 04, 1999

Washington University announces plans to build Uncas A. Whitaker Hall for Biomedical Engineering

St. Louis, Mo., Nov. 5, 1999 --In recognition of The Whitaker Foundation's long-term support of Washington University's scientific research and education, coupled with the recent receipt of two major grants for the Department of Biomedical Engineering, Chancellor Mark S. Wrighton has announced plans to construct a building to house biomedical engineering research and teaching. Groundbreaking is set for the fall of 2000 with occupancy scheduled for the fall of 2002.

The facility will be named the Uncas A. Whitaker Hall for Biomedical Engineering, after the Foundation's founder. Uncas A. Whitaker was an inventor, engineer and philanthropist who established AMP Incorporated, the world's largest manufacturer of electrical connectors and connecting devices. This summer Washington University received two major grants from The Whitaker Foundation totaling $13 million. The largest of the two awards will provide $10 million toward the construction of the biomedical engineering building, and the second award of $3 million will be used over the next three years to assist in recruiting as many as six new faculty members to the department.

In making the announcement, Wrighton emphasized the partnership role The Whitaker Foundation has played in scientific, engineering and medical advancements over the past decade. "Since 1987, The Whitaker Foundation has provided a total of 34 grants, which, combined with the recent awards for the Department of Biomedical Engineering, totals more than $19 million," Wrighton noted.

"We are very grateful to The Whitaker Foundation for joining us in our commitment to the growth of biomedical engineering teaching and research at Washington University," Wrighton said. "With Professor Frank Yin at the helm, and with the wonderful support of The Whitaker Foundation, the department is poised to become a national leader in an important field that is bringing to the world breakthroughs in human health every day."

"We are extremely pleased to have the support of The Whitaker Foundation to build a world-class biomedical engineering department," stated Frank C.P. Yin, M.D., Ph.D., chair of the department and director of the university's Institute of Biological and Medical Engineering. (Yin also is Steven F. and Camilla T. Brauer Professor of Biomedical Engineering.) "We will be recruiting a mix of outstanding senior and junior faculty. Once the building and the new faculty are in place, we will be more than ready to meet the demand for biomedical engineering, which already is extremely popular with our students."

Christopher I. Byrnes, dean of the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, said this high demand was anticipated early on in the planning for the 21st century. "The need for a strong biomedical engineering department was identified as one of the school's top priorities during our Project 21 planning process," Byrnes noted.

Recognizing the need to begin building a biomedical engineering center, the new department was introduced in the fall of 1997, with 50 freshman students expressing an interest in a major. This fall, nearly one-third of the 270 incoming engineering freshmen have declared an interest in the biomedical engineering major. Roughly half of the engineering students earning a bachelor's degree pursue a medical degree, with the other half going into industry or academia. The department currently enrolls 29 graduate students, 19 doctoral candidates and 10 master's degree students.

"The Biomedical Engineering department has been growing steadily, with the resulting growing pains," said Byrnes. "The Foundation's awards will transform the young department with limited space into a major center of research and teaching."

While the young department is small, with a core faculty of five full-time professors, there already are 19 joint faculty members and 60 adjunct faculty. U.S. News & World Report already ranks the department among the top 20 in the nation.

Applying engineering concepts, methods and techniques to biology and medicine, biomedical engineering analyzes biological systems such as cells, tissues and organs, as well as the organization of these systems into integrated organisms, such as the human body. Instrumentation, computers, materials, diagnostic and therapeutic devices, artificial organs, prostheses, and medical information systems for use in medical research and practice are the basic materials of biomedical engineering.

Yin said the faculty search will focus on people with expertise in the areas of engineering of growth and remodeling, which encompasses many areas from embryology to growing new vessels, tissues, bone, and the healing of tissues after trauma such as a heart attack; molecular engineering, which covers the areas of genomics, bioinformatics, biopolymer structure and functions, biomaterials and computational biology; and neural engineering, a rapidly growing area that leverages the strengths of neuroscience to yield information about signal processing, sensory perception and motor control and neural imaging.

"The job outlook is outstanding for biomedical engineers, both in the medical profession and in industry," said Yin. "I think the medical profession, for one, benefits greatly from having physicians with a strong technical background. There are many challenges ahead in the biomedical field, and having the support of The Whitaker Foundation helps Washington University to meet those challenges."

Shepley Bulfinch Richardson and Abbott, a Boston architectural firm that specializes in buildings for the fields of education and medicine, has submitted a conceptual design for a three-story, 96,000-gross-square-foot biomedical engineering building, to be located southeast of the intersection of Hoyt Drive and Millbrook Boulevard.

The preliminary cost for the building is estimated at $33 million. Features of the proposed building include a 250-person auditorium; 22,000 square feet of wet and dry laboratory space and 12,580 additional square feet for core laboratory facilities; library, student and faculty lounges and faculty offices; and a landscaped courtyard on the building's south side.
The Whitaker Foundation is the nation's largest private sponsor of biomedical engineering research and education. Since its inception, The Whitaker Foundation, based in Rosslyn, Va., has awarded more than $525 million to colleges and universities for faculty research, graduate fellowships and program development. The Whitaker Foundation is a private, nonprofit foundation dedicated to improving human health through the support of biomedical engineering.

Washington University in St. Louis

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