Bioengineering Beginnings

Officially launched in 2003, bioengineering at Illinois traces its origins to the groundbreaking research conducted six decades earlier by faculty like ultrasound pioneers William Fry and Floyd Dunn in the Electrical Engineering Research Lab (EERL), which stood on what is now the Bardeen Quad. Another prominent faculty member was affiliate professor Paul Lauterbur, who received the 2003 Nobel Prize in Medicine for developments in magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) which revolutionized the medical profession and continues to be a significant area of study in the department of bioengineering.

Bioengineering was originally (1973) an undergraduate degree program housed in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences (LAS) before becoming an official department in the college of engineering in 2003. The range of disciplines involved in the department of bioengineering has increased greatly over time, with research continuing to evolve in the area of bioimaging at multi-scale and further expanding in molecular, cellular and tissue engineering, bio-micro and nanotechnology, computational bioengineering, synthetic bioengineering and health care systems engineering.


1950s | 1960s | 1970s | 1980s | 1990s | 2000s | 2010s | 2020s

Ultrasound Pioneers: William Fry and Floyd Dunn

William Fry’s ultrasound research led to more advanced medical practices for treating patients undergoing neurosurgery and for disorders such as Parkinson's disease and intractable pain. Fry is credited with establishing one of the foundations of bioengineering — and a new field of study — the medical application of ultrasound for therapeutic purposes. Fry also developed mechanical and artificial hearts, filing patents for this work in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

William (Bill) Fry
William (Bill) Fry

Floyd Dunn (BSEE 1949, MSEE 1951, PhD 1956), who studied under professor Fry, later became an electrical engineering faculty member at Illinois. Dunn made important research contributions to understanding how ultrasound propagates in and interacts with biological media. During his 40-year career as an Illinois faculty member and director of the Bioacoustics Research Lab, Dunn conducted fundamental research that helped make ultrasound a safe and efficient diagnostic and therapeutic medical technique. His accomplishments impacted six major areas: absorption processes, nonlinear phenomena, applications in living systems, toxicity, measurement techniques, and acoustic microscopy.


Late 1950s and early 1960s

Bioengineering Program with College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

Bioengineering was an undergraduate program in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at Illinois.


Bioengineering named a College of Engineering Special Program

Bioengineering was recognized as a special program in the College of Engineering (COE) which was later named The Grainger College of Engineering. 


Nobel Prize for MRI

Paul Lauterbur, bioengineering affiliate professor, shared the Nobel Prize in Medicine for developments in magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) — work he did while at the State University of New York at Stony Brook.

Paul Lauterbur and Big Red, the first human MRI scanner. Photo courtesy of Stony Brook University.
Paul Lauterbur and Big Red, the first human MRI scanner. Photo courtesy of Stony Brook University.

Bioengineering joins College of Engineering

Bioengineering officially became a College of Engineering department.


Bruce Wheeler named the first bioengineering department head

His career at Illinois is represented by ground-breaking scientific endeavors involving signal processing in neurons as a faculty member in the electrical and computer engineering (ECE) department. He served as the first department of bioengineering head for 5 years and worked for the University of Illinois for 28 years prior to his retirement in 2008.

Bruce Wheeler
Bruce Wheeler

During his time as a bioengineering faculty, his research focused on technologies for the study of small neuronal networks, micropatterning the growth of individual neurons, microelectrode array fabrication, neural signal processing, signal processing and hearing related technologies.


First Bioengineering Class Admitted

Bioengineering accepted its first class of 22 undergraduate and 3 graduate students.


Michael Insana named bioengineering department head

Michael Insana was the interim head of the department of bioengineering from 2008-2010 and also served as the director of graduate studies. He continued to serve as department head from 2010 to 2013. Professor Insana received his Ph.D. in medical physics from the University of Wisconsin, Madison in 1983. He was a research physicist at the FDA from 1984-1987, a professor of radiology and physiology at the University of Kansas Medical Center from 1987-1999, and a professor of biomedical engineering at the University of California, Davis from 1999-2004.

Michel Insana
Michel Insana

Currently, he is professor of bioengineering and an affiliate faculty member of the electrical and computer engineering department and the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology.



First bioengineering class graduates

The department of bioengineering celebrates its first graduates in the undergraduate and graduate programs. Of particular note, Edgar Goluch was the first student to earn a Ph.D. from the department of bioengineering at the University of Illinois Urbana- Champaign. Dr. Goluch's dissertation was entitled, "Chip-Based Detection of Protein Cancer Markers."


Rashid Bashir named bioengineering department head

Rashid Bashir completed his Ph.D. from Purdue University in Oct. 1992. From Oct. 1992 to Oct. 1998, he worked at National Semiconductor in the Analog/Mixed Signal Process Technology Development Group, where he was promoted to senior engineering manager. At National Semiconductor, he led the development and commercialization of 4 analog semiconductor process technologies. He joined Purdue University in Oct. 1998 as an assistant professor and was later promoted to professor of electrical and computer engineering and a courtesy professor of biomedical engineering and mechanical engineering. In Oct. 2007, he joined the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign as the Abel Bliss Professor of Engineering, and professor of electrical and computer engineering and bioengineering. He was the director of the Micro and Nanotechnology Laboratory from Oct. 2007 to Aug. 2013 and the co-director of the campus-wide Center for Nanoscale Science and Technology.

Rashid Bashir
Rashid Bashir

In Oct. 2016, he was named the Grainger Distinguished Chair in Engineering. From Aug. 2013 to Aug 2017, he was the head of the bioengineering department. From 2017 to 2018 he was the executive associate dean and the chief diversity officer of the new Carle Illinois College of Medicine at UIUC. In Nov 2018, he was appointed as the 15th dean of the College of Engineering at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. The college was named The Grainger College of Engineering in honor of W. W. Grainger in 2019.



Grainger Gift

The Grainger Engineering Breakthroughs Initiative began in January 2013 with $100 million in support from the Grainger Foundation. That gift supports major growth of the bioengineering department. It also supported the renovation of Everitt Laboratory, which serves as a new home for the department.


Bioengineering receives ABET Accreditation

The aim of the educational objectives of the ABET-accredited bioengineering undergraduate program is to graduate students who:

  • Enter into industry jobs in prominent companies as engineers who work in the areas of: medical device design, manufacturing, quality control, marketing and so much more, as they work toward the advancement of medicine
  • Pursue graduate studies in bioengineering-related fields such as: imaging and sensing, therapeutics, biomechanics, cell and tissue engineering, and computational and systems biology
  • Broaden their education by attending professional school in areas of medicine, law, and business
  • Maintain professional development through societal memberships and industry workshops.

Michael Insana served as the interim bioengineering department head

Rashid Bashir, Grainger Distinguished Chair in Engineering and head of the bioengineering department, was named the executive associate dean and chief diversity officer of the new Carle Illinois College of Medicine (CI-COM). Bioengineering Professor Michael Insana, a Donald Biggar Willett Professor of Engineering, took over as department head on an interim basis.


Preliminary LCME accreditation of Carle Illinois College of Medicine

The college is a partnership between the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and Carle Health System based in Urbana. The college welcomed its first class of 32 students in 2018.

The inaugural faculty includes members representing eight colleges and schools across the Urbana campus, including the school of social work and the colleges of agricultural, consumer and environmental sciences; applied health sciences; education; engineering; liberal arts and sciences; media and veterinary medicine. The Illinois faculty teach alongside medical professionals from Carle Health System and the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Medicine and nursing program.


New home for bioengineering

The historic Everitt Laboratory became the home to bioengineering after a $55 million renovation.

Everitt Laboratory
Everitt Laboratory

Mark Anastasio named bioengineering department head

Mark Anastasio was named a new Donald Biggar Willett Professor in Engineering and head of the bioengineering department at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. Professor Anastasio is an internationally recognized expert in tomographic image reconstruction, imaging physics, and the development of novel computed biomedical imaging systems. He has conducted pioneering research in the fields of photoacoustic computed tomography, diffraction tomography, and X-ray phase-contrast imaging. His research interests include the development of biomedical imaging methods, image reconstruction, and inverse problems in imaging and theoretical image science.

Mark Anastasio
Mark Anastasio

Professor Anastasio earned his Ph.D. in medical physics from the University of Chicago in 2001, M.S. in physics from the University of Illinois Chicago in 1995, M.S.E. in electrical engineering from the University of Pennsylvania in 1993, and B.S. in electrical engineering from the Illinois Institute of Technology in 1992.


M.Eng. Launches Online

The department of bioengineering offers non-thesis, professional Master in Engineering (M.Eng.) in Bioengineering degree. The curriculum integrates technical skills development with an understanding of business fundamentals. Graduates are equipped with technical skills and big-picture business perspective and are trained to find creative solutions to complex, multi-level systems problems. The program can be a stepping stone for those looking to advance their career or to transition to an engineering-focused career in healthcare. The M.Eng. program is available both as a one-year on-campus program, as well as a flexible fully online program.


Masters in Biomedical Image Computing degree created

Biomedical image computing is a large, rapidly growing industry and research field comprising the formation and analysis of diagnostic images. Both image system design and biomedical image analysis currently are being revolutionized at a tremendous rate by the emergence of machine learning techniques. This Master of Science in Biomedical Image Computing degree addressed the need for efficient, rigorous training focused at the intersection of biomedical imaging science, high-performance computing and machine learning.


Neural engineering major is created

Neural engineering is a rapidly growing discipline in which engineering principles are applied to the design of technologies to understand, repair, and enhance the function of the nervous system. The Bachelor of Science degree in Neural Engineering gives students the opportunity for a rigorous and focused training at the intersection of neuroscience and engineering fundamentals.


CS + BIOE degree created

Students in the Computer Science + Bioengineering (CS+BioE) Bachelor of Science degree program have the opportunity to develop an integrative understanding of computational and bioengineering principles to analyze biomedical data, construct models of biological systems, and design and implement advanced diagnostic and therapeutic techniques to improve human health.


Department of BIOE celebrates its 20th anniversary