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History and Mission

Bioengineering at Illinois traces its origins to groundbreaking research conducted in the mid-20th century by faculty such as ultrasound pioneers William Fry and Floyd Dunn.

Fry’s ultrasound research led to more advanced medical practices for treating neurosurgery patients and for disorders such as Parkinson's disease and intractable pain. Fry is credited with establishing one of the foundations of bioengineering — the medical application of ultrasound for therapeutic purposes. He also developed and patented some of the first artificial hearts.

Although Fry died unexpectedly in 1968 at the age of 49, his brother Francis continued the innovative work, leading to many more firsts, including scanning and imaging of live human brains.

Floyd Dunn (BSEE 1949, MSEE 1951, PhD 1956 EE) studied under Fry and later became an Electrical Engineering faculty member at Illinois. During his 40-year career on the faculty and as director of the Bioacoustics Research Lab, Dunn conducted fundamental research that helped make ultrasound a safe and efficient diagnostic and therapeutic medical tool. He retired in 1995 and died in 2015.

In 2003, 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. Lauterbur, who died in 2007, was among the first scientists to use nuclear MRI in the studies of molecules, solutions and solids.

Bioengineering originally (1973) was an undergraduate program in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at Illinois. In 2003, it officially became an Engineering department, with Bruce Wheeler, now professor emeritus, as the first head. Michael Insana, a Donald Biggar Willett Professor in Engineering in the Bioengineering department, followed as head from 2008 to 2013 and continues to teach and conduct research at Illinois. In 2013, Rashid Bashir, Grainger Distinguished Chair in Engineering, became Bioengineering head and became dean of The Grainger College of Engineering in 2018. Mark Anastasio became the Bioengineering department head in early 2019.

The number of students served and the range of disciplines involved in the Department of Bioengineering have increased greatly over time. Research continues to evolve and expand, particularly in the areas of bioimaging at multi-scale; molecular, cellular and tissue engineering; bio-micro/nanotechnology; computational bioengineering; synthetic bioengineering; and healthcare systems engineering. And Bioengineering faculty played a significant role in the creation of the first engineering-based medical school, the Carle Illinois College of Medicine.

Mission

Bioengineering at Illinois develops innovative engineering, technology, and quantitative methods to address grand challenges in human health and sustainability.

We are building on a foundational expertise in biomolecular imaging, bio-nanotechnology, computation, cellular and tissue engineering, synthetic bioengineering, and healthcare systems engineering, and are focused on detecting and treating cancer, neuro-degeneration, and cardiovascular disease as the most urgent areas of human health issues.