The 2017-2018 academic year marks the 50th anniversary of the founding of UW’s Center for Bioengineering and the 20th anniversary of the creation of the UW Department of Bioengineering, a department jointly operated by the University of Washington’s School of Medicine and College of Engineering.

Founded in 1967 by Dr. Robert Rushmer, the center offered one of the first bioengineering programs in the United States. Today, it remains a national leader in innovative research, prepares students for their careers and makes an impact by improving health care. The department has been ranked among the top programs in the nation since its inception.

“UW Bioengineering’s anniversary is an opportunity to honor the innovative leaders who have come before us and the department’s many accomplishments that are a testament to the power of our collaborative approach,” says Cecilia Giachelli, chair of the department. “We will both celebrate UW Bioengineering’s success in building partnerships and engineering solutions to health problems, and envision what the coming decades hold for the department and the field.”

UW Center for Bioengineering/Department of Bioengineering achievements include:

  • Modern Doppler ultrasound for heart and fetal monitoring
  • First treadmills for cardiac testing
  • The hemodialysis shunt
  • Minimally invasive devices to treat gastrointestinal bleeding
  • Rotablator tool that removes calcified plaque from coronary arteries
  • The National Simulation Resource Physiome Project
  • Pioneering “smart” polymers and hydrogels for non-fouling biomaterials surfaces
  • Development of “smart” polymers for diagnostics and to deliver drugs to targeted cells
  • STAR biomaterials, 3D scaffolds that promote blood vessel formation and healing
  • Technology for the ultrasonic toothbrush
  • Paper-based diagnostics to screen for disease in remote and low-resource settings
  • Peptide based-therapeutics for bleeding, brain and cardiovascular disease
  • Stem cell therapy to regenerate heart muscle

“As we look back on our history of shared innovation, we move forward with excitement about the future impact we will make,” Dr. Giachelli says. The department recently hired several new faculty in the area of neuroengineering, which will help propel UW toward its goal of building brain-computer interfaces for stroke, spinal cord injury and other neurological conditions. In 2015, UW BioE hired a key group of researchers to expand its work in heart regeneration.

UW Bioengineering will host a number of events throughout the year to celebrate its milestones. Watch the UW Bioengineering 50/20 web site for details as they become available.

Events include:

  • 11-14: BMES, Phoenix
  • November 2017: Allan S. Hoffman Lecture Honored Speaker: Allan S. Hoffman
  • Winter: UW BioEngage symposia
  • May 2018: BioE 50/20 Signature event, Robert F. Rushmer Lecture

In addition, as part of the 50/20 anniversary, UW Bioengineering plans to recognize community members with new awards.

Robert Rushmer, founder of UW Bioengineering

Robert Rushmer, founder of UW Bioengineering

As the founder of UW Bioengineering, Dr. Rushmer recognized the potential for engineering to address clinical needs, and empowered a culture of collaboration that continues in the department today. Robert Rushmer was skilled at making advantageous introductions between engineers and physicians, says David Auth, affiliate professor of bioengineering. He made connections “where he thought the medical faculty might benefit from having an engineer’s own set of skills to embellish their relationship,” says Dr. Auth, one of those engineers that Dr. Rushmer connected with UW physicians, and who developed numerous medical devices, such as fiber-optic endoscopy to treat gastrointestinal bleeding and later, the Rotablator.

UW Bioengineering Leadership Through the Decades

  • Robert F. Rushmer, founder and director 1967-1975, deceased
  • James B. Bassingthwaighte, director 1975-1980, professor of bioengineering
  • Lee Huntsman, director 1980-1996, UW President emeritus and professor emeritus of bioengineering
  • Francis (Sandy) Spelman, acting director/chair, 1996-1999, professor emeritus of bioengineering
  • Yongmin Kim, chair 1999-2007, President of POSTECH University of Science and Technology in South Korea; affiliate professor of bioengineering
  • Paul Yager, chair 2007-2015, professor of bioengineering
  • Cecilia Giachelli, chair 2015-present, W. Hunter and Dorothy Simpson Endowed Chair of Bioengineering

Notable Dates

  • 1967: Robert Rushmer founds the UW Center for Bioengineering, jointly operated by the UW School of Medicine and College of Engineering
  • 1968: Gerald Pollack and Lee Huntsman arrive on campus: UW Bioengineering’s longest-tenured faculty members
  • 1988: Dr. Jay Rubenstein, first Ph.D. graduate, joint professor of bioengineering and otolaryngology
  • 1997: Center for Bioengineering becomes the Department of Bioengineering, jointly operated by the UW School of Medicine and College of Engineering
  • 2000: Bioengineering bachelor’s degree program approved
  • 2006: Dedication of the William H. Foege Building, home to UW Bioengineering
  • 2009: Launch of Master’s of Pharmaceutical Bioengineering degree
  • 2016: Launch of the Master’s of Applied Bioengineering degree


Visit UW Bioengineering’s 50/20 website