The Biomedical Engineering Department in connection with the Optics Institute have announced plans to create a new BME/Optics Building.

Since its creation in the 1960s, the BME field has seen a growth in student interest in BME majors as well as an increase in expert faculty. This growth has created a demand for new facilities, such as labs and classrooms. As the BME mission statement outlines, the department seeks to “provide students with the foundational knowledge and skills in biomedical engineering.”

The BME department feels that a new building is the solution to this ever-growing demand.

“We propose to develop a joint BME/Optics complex in the space presently occupied by the old Cyclotron and machine shop buildings, as well as the Wilmot Parking Lot,” Director of Optics Wayne Knox outlined in “The Optics/BME Building Project and Fundraising Strategy.” Knox, along with Professor Richard Waugh, chair of BME, are at the fore-front of this project.

Combining the BME department and Optics Institute is a bold plan since both are already strong programs at UR. The building will also provide space for the Center for Institute Ventures and Infotonics. “I would say that this is a truly transforming project, taking us to a leadership position in two related areas that will only grow more important in the 21st century ? biomedical engineering and bio-optics,” Dean of Electrical and Computer Engineering Kevin Parker said.

The project will address the needs of the growing number of BME majors and will further UR’s BME and optics reputation.

“No other university has an optics program with as much history, tradition and leadership as Rochester, and those with good optics programs do not have intimate access to a large medical center.” Knox said.

BME’s history at UR is also well-established.

The origins of BME may stretch back to the 1960s, but the department itself is relatively new?it was established in 2000. In this short span of time, however, the BME department has been able to amass roughly $6 million in grants alone.

The estimated cost of the project is $29.7 million, with funds coming from various foundations including Whitaker Foundation, private individuals, a NYSTAR grant ? still in the works ? and the Keck Foundation.

Current plans are to break ground in October 2004. Although this date means many present seniors and juniors will be unable to experience the benefits, they are excited for the department none the less. “It will be nice to centralize everything a little bit better,” junior Kirk Reichelt said. “I’m excited about it.” “It’s a great idea that will further UR’s unique BME program,” junior Deepa Bansal said.

Freshmen will benefit the more than upperclassmen from the new facilities, as they will graduate with their work mainly based out of labs held in the new building. “All the classes are good, but labs are hard to do with the facilities,” freshman Soo Kim said.

Kim hopes the new building will offer students a chance to have labs in larger rooms. Many BME majors find that computers are in short supply, creating random lab locations and awkward spaces. Students hope the new building will alleviate these setbacks.

The new building will include labs and lecture halls, which will also serve as distance learning centers. The top floor will be available for use by Institute Ventures.

“A new building combined with new programs will ensure great opportunities for future UR students,” Parker said.

The building also offers opportunities for each department. “The creation of a new Optics/BME complex would provide a very highly charged atmosphere that would help the Institute and BME tremendously in recruiting the highest quality faculty and students, and leverage fundraising for both programs,” Knox said.

In addition, for BME this opportunity for new space will coincide with the current growth. “The BME program at UR is poised to become a national leader in biomedical engineering education and research,” he said.

With location, funds and purpose settled, the task force is left with one more job.

Naming the building is a difficult assignment. “Several naming opportunities would exist for the new building, the old building as well as lecture halls, etc., and we hope that many of the Institute alumni would like to join with us and help realize such a vision,” Knox said.

Plans are moving rapidly, but this has been the trend for BME and optics in general. The building is essential for further growth, but it also allows the growing field of biomedical optics to work more closely together. “Both BME and optics share a critical need for immediate action,” Knox said.

Tanner can be reached at rtanner@campustimes.org.



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