sealPurdue News

July 17, 1998

Purdue establishes new biomed engineering department

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- What do you get when you cross engineering with medicine?

Ligaments made from pig intestines. Pacemakers. Artificial knee joints. A way to detect breast tumors painlessly using light. A potential insulin pill.

It's called biomedical engineering, and for more than 20 years Purdue University researchers have made pioneering advances in the field. Now Purdue has a new Department of Biomedical Engineering to integrate its research efforts with a year-old academic program that partners both Purdue and Indiana universities.

George R. Wodicka, chairman of the biomedical engineering graduate program and a faculty member in the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Purdue, has been appointed the first head of the new department.

"We're building this new department on a solid historical foundation, rather than starting from scratch," he said. "One of the relatively unique aspects of this department is that it is part of a joint-campus effort, with both Purdue and Indiana universities involved. Also, while many stand-alone biomedical engineering departments nationwide combine engineering and medical school resources, ours also includes highly unique contributions from dentistry and veterinary medicine.

"Coordinating our research and teaching through the new department will allow us to effectively meet the growing demands of the biomedical engineering industry, expanding and enhancing our capabilities in interdisciplinary fields that exceed the boundaries of traditional life science and engineering departments."

Wodicka said the department, which resides administratively within the Purdue Schools of Engineering, will serve as a hub for cross-disciplinary research, teaching and service.

The academic program in biomedical engineering, which began offering courses last fall, is a master's and doctoral-degree program offered by Purdue and Indiana University, with graduates receiving Purdue engineering degrees. The program unites Indiana University's Schools of Medicine and Dentistry with the Purdue Schools of Veterinary Medicine, Engineering and Science to create the only biomedical engineering doctoral program in Indiana.

Biomedical engineering is a broadly defined field, and includes people working in academic research as well as those developing medical products for biotechnology companies. Some Purdue research areas include developing materials to deliver drugs to the body; designing orthopedic devices and artificial joints; developing new medical imaging technologies; improving and designing implantable devices such as pacemakers and defibrillators; developing new diagnostic tools; and developing new methods to repair and regenerate damaged tissue.

Nicholas Peppas, Purdue's Showalter Distinguished Professor of Biomedical Engineering, said the new department and degree offerings will help meet the great demand by industry for highly skilled and specialized biomedical engineers.

"There are a number of companies in Indiana that make orthopedic devices, for example, that need people who know how joints and artificial joints behave," Peppas said. "In Indiana alone there are about 140 biomedically related companies. The expertise of our researchers and the graduates of this program can help fulfill many of their growing needs."

Students, including those pursuing degrees in areas other than biomedical engineering, can select from more than 30 classes offered both at Purdue's West Lafayette campus and at the Indiana University-Purdue University campus in Indianapolis and can specialize in one of five areas: intelligent biomaterials, orthopedic biomechanics, medical imaging, implantable devices and tissue engineering.

Clinical internships in five areas also are available to master's students and are required for doctoral students pursuing a degree in biomedical engineering. The areas are cardiology, dental imaging and surgery, orthopedic surgery, radiology, and animal surgery.

As head of the department, Wodicka will work with faculty and administrators to set its mission and goals, help develop biomedical engineering courses, and hire new faculty. Wodicka, who joined the Purdue faculty in 1989, has won four teaching awards, received a 1992 Young Investigator Award from the National Science Foundation, and was named a 1996 Guggenheim Fellow. His research interests include biomedical acoustics, biomedical signal processing, and non-invasive medical instrumentation.

Sources: George R. Wodicka, (765) 494-0637; e-mail,

Nicholas Peppas, (765) 494-7944; e-mail,

Writer: Amanda Siegfried, (765) 494-4709; e-mail,

Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096; e-mail,

More information about the Department of Biomedical Engineering can be found on the Web at

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