UCSD bioengineer to receive President's National Medal of Science

November 12, 2000

The White House announced today that Yuan-Cheng Fung, fondly known as the father of biomechanics, will receive the President's National Medal of Science, the nation's highest scientific honor. Fung, a professor emeritus of bioengineering at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) Jacobs School of Engineering, will be recognized at an awards dinner scheduled for December 1 in Washington, D.C.

In announcing the 12 Medal of Science honorees for the Year 2000, President Clinton paid tribute to a group of scientific leaders who changed or set new directions in social policy, neuroscience, biology, chemistry, bioengineering, mathematics, physics, and earth and environmental sciences.

Fung is the first bioengineer to receive the prestigious National Medal of Science since it was established in 1959. He is also the only engineer among this year's honorees. UCSD now counts five National Medal of Science recipients among its distinguished faculty.

"Dr. Fung was one of the first visionaries to recognize that quantitative and analytical engineering principles and technologies could be used to develop innovative ways to diagnose, treat and prevent human disease," said UC President Richard Atkinson. "Today, medical researchers, physicians and government leaders agree that major medical advances in the 21st century will only be possible through active involvement of engineers."

Fung joined UCSD in 1966 to initiate a B.S., M.S., and Ph.D. program in bioengineering. He helped shaped and continues to bolster a Bioengineering Department that was ranked third best in the nation in the 2000 U.S. News & World Report survey of graduate programs.

"Dr. Fung is a pioneer, both in establishing the founding principles of the field of bioengineering, and in helping to set the standards of scientific excellence at the University of California, San Diego," said Robert Dynes, UCSD Chancellor. "His work is a wonderful early example of how basic bench research translates to improved treatment at the bedside."

"We are deeply proud of all that Bert Fung has accomplished and all that he has meant to this campus, the Jacobs School and our Bioengineering Department, " said Robert Conn, Dean of the Jacobs School of Engineering. "He is a truly unique individual, and that is evidenced by his being one of only a handful of people who have been elected a member of all three national academy branches: the National Academy of Science, the National Academy of Engineering and the Institute of Medicine."

Prior to joining UCSD, Fung was a faculty member in the Department of Aeronautics at the California Institute of Technology, where he received his Ph.D. in 1948. His early research focused on the dynamics of airplanes in turbulent weather, and on aircraft and spaceship safety, performance and design. His pioneering work welded the classical fields of aerodynamics and structures into a unified discipline of aeroelasticity. He published one of the two first books in that field.

Beginning in the late 1950's, Fung became interested in the mechanics of the eye because his mother was suffering from glaucoma. In the mid 1960's, he published the pioneering "tunnel" theory of the capillary blood vessels, and the "stress-free design" theory of the red blood cells, which are still widely accepted. He grew convinced that the understanding of the human body can be improved by paying attention to stress and strain in the body.

"I realized that existing engineering mechanics could not deal with biology without a complete revolution," said Fung. "Some axioms had to be changed. All the mechanical properties of living tissues and cells had to be determined before one could proceed. New mathematical approaches had to be developed to deal with the stochastic, nonlinear, and biological complexities."

With plans to devote 100 percent of his time to develop this interdisciplinary area, Fung resigned his professorship from Caltech in 1966 and came to UCSD with Ben Zweifach and Marcos Intaglietta to start one of the nation's first bioengineering programs.

At UCSD, Fung developed equations representing the strain energy function of soft tissues as an exponential function of a quadratic sum of the strain components. He devised many ways to determine the elastic constants of soft tissues. He introduced the concept of pseudo elasticity and quasi-linear viscoelasticity. On the basis of his equations and methods, functional constitutive data are collected around the world.

Fung, with Sid Sobin, Michael Yen, and their students, developed a "sheet-flow" theory of the lung. The predictions of this theory agree with the experimental results in remarkable detail and precision. For its novelty in concept, completeness in fundamental anatomic, histological, mechanical, electronmicroscopic, and physiological data, and the absence of ad hoc assumptions, this sheet- flow theory is peerless.

It explains and predicts many clinical observations on pulmonary blood flow, edema and other problems. An interesting deduction is that the speed of sound in the lung is very low, on the order of 60 to 80 mph. An airbag shooting out in a car accident would impact the lung at supersonic speed. That is why the air bag is dangerous to the lung.

Fung and his associates provided the medical community with the most complete sets of morphometric data on the coronary blood vessels (with Ghasson Kassab), pulmonary vascular tree (with Z.L. Jaing), and intestines (with Hans Gregersen), from which rigorous theoretical analyses can be based.

He and his students clarified the zero-stress state of blood vessels and other organs. When a tissue remodels, the zero-stress state changes. This change is the simplest and best measure of tissue remodeling. Fung and his colleagues, Shu Qian Liu, Wei Huang and others have focused on tissue remodeling as a take off point for tissue engineering.

Fung's effort could be summarized as trying to wed engineering science with biology. The field of bioengineering is developing very rapidly, particularly with the help of the Whitaker Foundation, a national philanthropic organization that has invested millions in bioengineering education and research.

At UCSD, the bioengineering faculty members have expertise in a wide variety of areas, from genes, molecules, and cells to tissues, organs, and whole organisms. Around the world, today's bioengineers not only try to add new understanding of nature, but also work on "engineering" the natural organisms, making tissue substitutes at all levels, from molecules to man, looking for engineered pharmaceuticals, and engineered gene therapy.

"Today, nearly every academic research university has established a bioengineering program. Across the country, these programs are modeled after the work of Y.C. Fung," said David Gough, chair of UCSD's Department of Bioengineering.

"Professor Fung single-handedly opened up new horizons for biomedical engineering," said Shu Chien, director of UCSD's Whitaker Institute of Biomedical Engineering. "His impacts are strong, far-reaching and long-lasting."
Fung has written several authoritative books on biomechanics that are used as textbooks around the world, in addition to books on solid mechanics and continuum mechanics. He adds the National Medal of Science to a long list of honors that include: the Founder's Award from the National Academy of Engineering (1998); the Bioengineering Award from the Japan Society of Mechanical Engineering (1995); the Distinguished Alumnus Award from California Institute of Technology (1994); the Timoshenko Medal (1991), the Melville Medal (1994), and Honorary Member (1996) from the American Society of Mechanical Engineers; the Borelli Award from the American Society of Biomechanics (1992); and the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Association of Chinese Scientists and Engineers of California (1992). In 1986, the ASME established the "Y.C. Fung Young Investigator Award" in his honor.

Photos of Dr. Y.C. Fung available at: http://www.soe.ucsd.edu/events/fung_pics.html

More details about the President's National Medal of Science: http://www.nsf.gov/nsb/awards/nms/start.htm

University of California - San Diego

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