Celebrating 50 Years of Discovery

The Department of Biomedical Engineering at Case Western Reserve University was officially approved by the Board of Trustees on May 9, 1968. The roots of biomedical engineering actually extend further back, as the university has always had a strong commitment to science and engineering. The Case Institute of Technology, out of which the department would merge, launched the Engineering Design Center in 1960. By early 1962, plans were underway to enroll graduate students from existing centers at Case Institute of Technology, including the Systems Research Center, Engineering Design Center and the Environmental Health Program as well as from Western Reserve University School of Medicine, into a graduate biomedical engineering program. In 1962, Case Institute of Technology added an undergraduate elective sequence in biomedical engineering. In 1963, it became the first such program to receive a training grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

In 1967, Case Institute of Technology merged with the 140-year-old Western Reserve University to form Case Western Reserve University. The Biomedical Engineering Division was formed, with almost 40 full- and part-time faculty members supervising 47 graduate students. In 1968, the university’s trustees officially formed the Department of Biomedical Engineering, one of only six such departments or programs in the country at the time. Case Western Reserve created the first MD/PhD program in 1969 to develop engineers with a physician’s perspective.

The 1970s

Faculty were engaged in leadership, and a strong engineering focus was developed across programs. The department implemented a two-year Master of Science degree in clinical engineering, but later abandoned it, as few hospitals were able to staff graduates. In 1972, Case Western Reserve became one of the first schools to offer a bachelor’s degree in biomedical engineering. Early tracks included materials, instrumentation/electronics and systems/controls. 

Shortly after graduating its first students, the undergraduate program was one of the first accredited by the Engineers’ Council for Professional Development (which later became the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology).

In 1977, the Rehabilitation Engineering Center was created to expand the focus on neural applications, and was the department’s first hospital-based program, leaning on strong institutional relationships with MetroHealth Medical Center (then called Cleveland Metropolitan General Hospital), the Cleveland VA Medical Center and the Department of Orthopaedics of the Case Western Reserve School of Medicine.

The 1980s

By 1980, the department had approximately 80 graduate students and 60 undergraduates. By the end of the decade, that would grow to more than 100 graduate students and 120 undergraduates. In 1980, the department received a Whitaker Foundation Special Opportunities grant and National Science Foundation grant to assemble a computer system to create an image-computing laboratory. 

The 1990s

Throughout the decade, the department was consistently ranked among the top five in the nation by U.S. News & World Report. By 1997, the student body had grown to more than 200 undergraduate students and 120 graduate students.

In 1996, the department received a multimillion-dollar Whitaker Development Award, which helped shift focus to biomedical engineering at the cellular and molecular levels. A National Institues of Health facilities grant allowed a major space increase and renovation of the Wickenden building, which allowed for co-location of all primary biomedical engineering faculty and enhanced interaction.

In 1999, the Cleveland Functional Electrical Stimulation (FES) Center launched.


In 2000, the department was awarded a continuation and extension of the Whitaker Development Award. Co-op placements quadrupled and internship placements more than doubled, with establishment of a BME Student Employment Program.

In 2006, the department was one of nine schools to receive $4.5 million partnership awards from the Wallace H. Coulter Foundation to promote translation of biomedical engineering research from academia to commercial markets and to patients in the form of improved patient care. The Case-Coulter Translational Research Partnership (CCTRP) relies on coordinated, interdisciplinary teams of scientists and clinical practitioners to bring new technology from bench to bedside. In partnership with the foundation, the department created processes to identify the most likely technologies, assisted in identifying critical next steps for research and supported early-stage intellectual property assessments and market potential. In 2008, an anonymous $2 million gift endowed the CCTRP program directorship, ensuring the program’s translational research mission in perpetuity. The program has funded more than 30 promising translational research projects.

In 2002, the Center for Modeling Integrated Metabolic Systems was established with an $11.8 National Institutes of Health award. The National Foundation for Cancer Research Center for Molecular Imaging at Case Western Reserve was launched in 2006. The Center for Computational Imaging and Personalized Diagnostics launched in 2012.

Department Chairs

  • Donald Gann – 1968-1970
  • Harry Nara – 1970-1972
  • Leon Harmon – 1972-1974
  • Peter Katona – 1974-1976
  • Robert Plonsey – 1976-1980
  • Peter Katona – 1980 – 1987
  • Gerald Saidel – 1987-1999
  • Patrick Crago – 1999 – 2007
  • P. Hunter Peckham – 2007 – 2008
  • Jeffrey Duerk – 2008-2013
  • Robert Kirsch – 2013 – present

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