Biomedical Engineering Department’s Uncas A. Whitaker Hall is dedicated

The dedication of Uncas A. Whitaker Hall for Biomedical Engineering on Oct. 20, 2003, was a major step forward in a plan begun more than a decade ago to launch a nationally prominent department in this rapidly growing field. It also crystallizes the ongoing collaboration of researchers in the Washington University School of Engineering and Applied Science and the School of Medicine begun more than 40 years ago.

“The schools of engineering and medicine have experienced a great tradition of working together in this dynamic field and it is a privilege to dedicate this facility to teaching and research in biomedical engineering,” Chancellor Mark S. Wrighton said. “We are greatly indebted to The Whitaker Foundation and to the Danforth Foundation for their significant support in providing the lead gifts for this building.” Wrighton also expressed his gratitude for the many additional supporters of Uncas A. Whitaker Hall.

Participants of the ceremony included Stephen F. Brauer, chairman and CEO of Hunter Engineering, former United States Ambassador to Belgium, and Board of Trustees member since 1991, who delivered the keynote address; G. Burtt Holmes, O.D., chairman of the board of The Whitaker Foundation; and Y.C. Fung, Ph.D., professor emeritus of bioengineering at the University of California, San Diego, widely known as the “father of biomechanics.”

The new building occupies the northeast corner of the Hilltop campus. Construction of Whitaker Hall began in June 2001 and was completed in Dec. 2002 at a cost of $41 million. Classes have been held in Whitaker Hall since spring semester 2003.

The Whitaker Foundation gave Washington University $10 million for the building, which is named after Uncas A. Whitaker, an inventor, engineer and philanthropist who encouraged and supported collaborative medical research involving engineers, scientists and physicians.

The Danforth Foundation support of Whitaker Hall was part of the lead gift to the Campaign for Washington University in 1997. At the time of the gift’s announcement, Wrighton noted that one of the major needs this core Campaign gift would address would be the support of biology and biomedical sciences.

Christopher I. Byrnes, Ph.D., The Edward H. and Florence G. Skinner Professor of Systems Science and Mathematics and dean of the School of Engineering and Applied Science, oversaw the department’s creation and development, along with William A. Peck, M.D., the Alan A. and Edith L. Wolff Distinguished Professor and dean emeritus of the School of Medicine.

“Jim McKelvey, former dean of engineering and now senior professor of chemical engineering, helped pioneer the early cooperation between engineering and medicine,” Byrnes explained. Turning to the future, he said, “Washington University now operates one of the best biomedical engineering departments in the country. With the support of Larry Shapiro, dean of the School of Medicine, this department will continue to make great advances and will have a significant impact on enhancing the region’s scientific base.”

Frank C.P. Yin, M.D., Ph.D., the Stephen F. and Camilla T. Brauer Professor of Biomedical Engineering and department chair, heads a dynamic department just six years old and already flourishing. With ten full-time faculty and more than 270 undergraduates and nearly 70 graduate students – including 50 at the doctoral level – biomedical engineering is one of the most popular fields of study at Washington University.

Shepley Bulfinch Richardson and Abbott, a Boston architectural firm specializing in buildings for the fields of education and medicine, was the architect for this three-story, 55,000-net-square-foot structure. The design emphasizes interactive spaces and allows flexibility in the research laboratories. McCarthy Building Companies provided construction management services.

Features of the building include a 250-person auditorium, a 2,000 square-foot, three-story atrium, 22,000 square feet of wet and dry laboratory space for research and teaching, a nanofabrication room, a library and a landscaped courtyard on the building’s south side. Whitaker Hall also contains student and faculty lounges, several classrooms and five faculty office “pods.” Each pod contains offices, a conference room and a support staff area.

“We in the biomedical engineering department are delighted to have this wonderful facility which enables us to work with our many students and collaborators and provide them with the best resources available in an ideal working environment,” said Yin. “Uncas A. Whitaker Hall for Biomedical Engineering is named for a remarkable man. We hope that the work we do here honors him, and we anticipate that many discoveries and breakthroughs will occur in this building in the future.”