NCSU, UNC Embark on Joint Engineering Degree

June 30, 2003

June 9, 2003
Triangle Business Journal
By Sabine Vollmer, staff writer
Copyright 2003 American City Business Journals Inc.

RALEIGH - North Carolina State University in Raleigh and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill have gotten a green light to set up a joint biomedical engineering department and offer a first-ever joint degree, complete with the seal of each school and the signature of each chancellor.

In an effort that has fewer than a handful of precedents nationwide and none within the statewide UNC System, NCSU's College of Engineering and UNC's School of Medicine plan to combine forces to form a Biomedical Engineering Department.

The board of governors of North Carolina's statewide public university system approved the degree program in May, and provosts at each university are expected to give their nod in the next six to nine months.

"The most successful biomedical engineering programs are at universities that have engineering and medical programs," says Troy Nagle, NCSU's interim head of biomedical engineering, pointing to Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore and Duke University in Durham.

U.S. News & World Report ranks Johns Hopkins No. 1 and Duke No. 2 among the top 10 biomedical engineering programs in the United States.

"The only way we can do that here," Nagle says, is bridge the 30 miles between NCSU in Raleigh and UNC in Chapel Hill with video classrooms, and share resources and equipment.

Stephen Knisley, UNC's interim chair of biomedical engineering, already is working on a research project that would be much more difficult without the collaboration.

Funded by a $120,000 grant from the American Heart Association, the project measures cardiac activity during arrhythmia, which is an abnormal rate of muscle contractions in the heart. The experiments, which are conducted at UNC's electrophysiology laboratory, require special, transparent electrodes. The electrodes can only be produced in a microfabrication laboratory, which NCSU has.

The UNC-NCSU collaboration promises an increase in the number and the variety of research projects that are funded, for example, by the National Institutes of Health, Knisley says.

UNC has offered a graduate biomedical engineering program within its medical school since 1968 and currently has 66 students enrolled, and four more students are expected to join this fall.

In the past 10 years, NCSU has offered only a graduate minor in biomedical engineering in which about 45 faculty members from the schools of veterinary medicine and engineering participated. After creating a biomedical engineering department at the beginning of the year, NCSU expects to enroll up to four graduate students in the fall.

Faculty members pushing the collaboration believe that pumping up research funding and activity is the road map to attracting the brightest students and ultimately a ranking among the nation's top 10 programs.

They project that a joint department would more than double in size in five years and add a total of about 20 faculty members to the eight currently at UNC and the seven at NCSU.