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Forty Years of Bioengineering at UTA

Bioengineering 40th Anniversary

The Department of Bioengineering at The University of Texas at Arlington is celebrating 40years of bioengineering on campus.  The College of Engineering hosted a luncheon of former deans and guests, a poster session, and a reception with cake and punch to commemorate the milestone on March 19.

Agenda for March 19

12 pm to 1:30 pm
Luncheon and History of the Bioengineering Joint Program Talk (by invitation only)

1:30 pm to 2:30 pm
Tours of Bionengineering Labs

2:30 pm to 4:00 pm
Poster Session and Reception
(Engineering Research Building Lobby; Reception outside, weather permitting)

5:00 pm to 6:00 pm
Distinguished Speaker Series Reception (Rady Room)

Key Players

Bioengineering Chairs (UTA)
  • Alfred Potvin
  • Robert Eberhart*
  • Khosrow Behbehani
  • Liping Tang (interim)
Bioengineering Chairs (UTSW)
  • David Mishelevich
  • John Watson
  • Ernie Stokely
  • Robert Eberhart*
  • Harold "Skip" Garner
  • Peter Antich
  • Edward Livingston
  • Matthew Petroll
More Key Players

John Axe: One of the first three BME faculty hired at UTA

Khosrow Behbehani: Program Chair, 2002-2013; Chair when BE became a department within UTA’s College of Engineering

Gunter Blomquist: Pulmonary physiologist who was very involved in the early BME program at UTHSCD.

Robert Eberhart: First joint BE Chair for UTA/UTSW

Bob Johnson: Provided lab experience for early BME students.

David Mishelevich: With Al Potvin, prepared written documents for the program approval process in 1971-72; first BME program coordinator

Jere Mitchell: Internal Medicine and Physiology; Supported many of our first students in his research lab, and was a powerful, early enthusiast.

Vert Mooney: Chair of Orthopedic Surgery Dept. at UTHSCD mid 70s-mid 80s; coordinated with Al Potvin to recruit and hire Alan Tencer.

Matt Petroll: Current BME chair at UTSW

Al Potvin: One of the first three BME faculty hired at UTA;

Bill Romans: headed the clinical engineering and bio-instrumentation labs at UTHSC for decades beginning in the early 1960s

Ernie Stokely: Assumed BME coordinator role after John Watson departed to head the artificial heart program at NIH. Instrumental in getting the joint academic program started and in co-managing the graduate studies committee.

Gordon Templeton: Faculty member
Alan Tencer: Biomechanics professor with 50/50 appointments at UTA and UTHSCD; One of the first three BME faculty hired at UTA;

John Watson: assumed BME coordinator role after David Mishelevich’s departure

Chuck Whitten: Faculty member

6:00 pm to 7:00 pm
Distinguished Speaker Series Lecture: John Rogers, UIUC (100 NH)

Early History of Bioengineering at UTA

In spring 1974, The University of Texas at Arlington and The University of Texas Health Sciences Center at Dallas (now UT Southwestern) launched a joint bioengineering program that was unique to the state. Forty years later, the program has grown to a full-fledged department at UTA, offering courses to graduate and undergraduate students alike. The bond with UTSW remains a key part of the department, and the two universities have made their partnership a success.

BE Chairs Potvin, Behbehani, and Tang, as well as former UTSW chair Ernie Stokely and current UT Dallas chair Matt Petroll

BE Chairs Potvin, Behbehani, and Tang, as well as former UTSW chair Ernie Stokely and current UTSW chair Matt Petroll

The request to offer M.S. and Ph.D. programs jointly through UTA and UTHSCD (now UT Southwestern) was submitted to the UT System in spring 1972. The program was formally approved by the Board of Regents in spring 1974. One reason the process took so long is that the proposal to offer a joint degree was unique in Texas at the time – only one other inter-institutional academic program was in place in the state – so there were not many precedents to follow in the planning stages.

UTHSCD began teaching and research in biomedical engineering in 1968 with an informal affiliation with SMU, and was formalized in 1972.  Reason: Original version may insinuate that UTA was responsible, at least in part, with the demise of the SMU affiliation. This thought would not be accurate in any way. The reasons that the SMU program was not sustained is complex and not pertinent to UTA personnel.

Starting in fall 1971, Al Potvin began teaching undergraduate elective biomedical courses and conducting research with undergrad and graduate students at UTA. Students earned course credits and degrees (B.S. and M.S.) primarily in the Electrical and Mechanical Engineering Departments, with a few students from the Industrial and Materials Science and Engineering Departments also enrolled.

By the time program approval was finalized in 1974 it was too late to recruit students for the fall semester. Potvin was working as a NASA Faculty Fellow at Moffit Field, Calif., for the academic year 1974-75, but he recruited faculty to teach/research in BME, and also recruited the first graduate student class at both UTA and UTHSCD to begin in Sept 1975. John Axe and Alan Tencer were the first hired BME faculty at UTA, other than Potvin.

Students enjoy a reception during the BE Department's 40th anniversary celebration.

Students enjoy a reception during the BE Department's 40th anniversary celebration.

The original agreement between UTA and UTHSCD stated that each institution had its own unique capabilities to contribute: UTA in engineering and the physical sciences and UTHSCD in the medical sciences. According to the document, “the proposed program is not centralized in any one department, but coordinates certain research and teaching activities in several departments. The proposed program will bring together the interdisciplinary interests of a wide group of active investigators and clinicians.”

Beginning in the 1973-74 academic year, two undergraduate courses – Bioengineering Laboratory, Intro to Biomedical Engineering, Selected Topics in Bioengineering – were offered in the civil, aerospace, electrical, industrial, and mechanical engineering departments. A third course, Intro to Biomedical Engineering, was added the next year. Emphasis areas in bioengineering were developed in Aerospace Engineering, Biology, Civil Engineering, Electrical Engineering, Industrial Engineering, Mechanical Engineering, and Psychology to give students an adequate background for participation in a graduate Bioengineering program.

Beginning in 1973-74, Bioengineering was listed in the graduate catalog under Engineering Multidisciplinary Areas. The catalog stated, "Although master's degrees are not offered in Biomedical Engineering, these areas provide valuable support courses for master's degrees in other engineering and science areas. Somewhat stronger specialization in these areas is available at the doctoral level."

That year, 10 Bioengineering courses were offered:

  • Seminar in Biomedical Engineering
  • Directed Research in Biomedical Engineering
  • Selected Topics in BME Neuropsychological Systems Analysis
  • Bio-electric Phenomena
  • Cardio-Pulmonary Dynamics
  • Biomechanics
  • Surgical Laboratory for Biomedical Engineering
  • Instrumentation Lab for Biomedical Engineering
  • Hospital Internship for Biomedical Engineering

By 1974-75, the graduate program in Biomedical Engineering was more robust. Its stated purpose was to provide students with an understanding of fundamentals and prepare them for careers in industry or for research in biomedical laboratories. Courses and research were offered in the areas of physiological, neurological, cybernetic, and bio-communications systems engineering; hospital and clinical engineering; biomedical instrumentation; biomechanics and biomaterials; radiological engineering; and engineering hemodynamics.

Courses offered included those offered the previous year with the addition of a master’s thesis, doctoral dissertation, and research in Biomedical Engineering.

The process of planning to elevate the BME program to department status within the UTA College of Engineering was approved in 1999 and came to fruition in 2004 under then-chair Khosrow Behbehani. Further growth occurred under Behbehani when the department added an undergraduate degree in fall 2012. Enrollment for the undergraduate program was double what the department had forecast and saw steady growth in the following semesters.