History of the Joint UC Berkeley - UC San Francisco Graduate Group in Bioengineering

The sister Departments of Bioengineering at Berkeley and Bioengineering and Therapeutic Sciences at UC San Francisco share administrative responsibility for a common PhD program-- the Joint UC Berkeley - UC San Francisco Graduate Program in Bioengineering. This arrangement is a thing of the 21st century: the Berkeley Bioengineering Department having been established in 1998 and the San Francisco Department of Bioengineering and Therapeutic Sciences having been established in 2009. The Joint Graduate Program in Bioengineering, on the other hand, was established in 1983. During the fifteen years prior to 1998 its administrative support was provided by the UCSF School of Medicine and the UC Berkeley College of Engineering. In recent documents the state of the Joint Program during those first fifteen years occasionally has been described as being "informal and small." The progam was never informal and, in terms of faculty participants, never small. In terms of student enrollees, it was small only for its first two or three years as it gradually accumulated its first few student cohorts. It was, from its very beginnings, an academically exceedingly successful program that offered a single degree (the PhD) designated as coming jointly from two campuses. And its presence in the mid 1990s undoubtedly is the reason those sister bioengineering departments exist today.

PhD programs are, quintessentially, apprenticeships in research. They train tomorrow's college and university professors and tomorrow's leaders in academic and industrial research. PhD students leverage not only the current faculty's research programs, but also their teaching programs. A truly attentive undergraduate student at any of the great research universities quickly learns how important, how enriching the presence of doctoral students can be. This becomes especially apparent for the science or engineering undergraduate (or beginning graduate student) who undertakes a project in a faculty research lab. PhD programs are the hearts of great research universities.

The Joint Program is, technically, a Graduate Group in the University of California system. For many years it was The Joint UC Berkeley - UC San Francisco Graduate Group in Bioengineering. The order of the campuses in that title was arbitrary and seemed to depend on the home campus of whomever was using it. Being long retired, I don't know whether or not that's still the case. Discussing the nature of a University of California Graduate Group would put me ahead of the story I'm trying to tell. At this point I'll say only that twelve of the twenty-six doctoral students that came through the Lewis Lab were enrolled in Graduate Groups; the other fourteen were enrolled in the Department of EECS. By the time we founded the Joint Graduate Group in Bioengineering, I had served on the Executive Committee of the Graduate Group in Biophysics and as academic adviser for that Group. I also had served for five years in Berkeley's Office of the Graduate Division, which has ultimate responsibility for all of the campus's academic graduate degrees (MA, MS, PhD), including those granted by graduate groups. I was thoroughly comfortable with graduate groups and thoroughly familiar with their operation. The fact that many others were neither of these things made quite an adventure out of those years prior to 1998.


In 1945, Verne Inman (UCSF Professor of Orthopedic Surgery), Howard Eberhart (UC Berkeley Professor of Civil Engineering) and Charles (Chuck) Radcliffe (UC Berkeley Professor of ME), with funding from the Veterans Administration, established the Prosthetics Device Research Project, with lab space on both campuses. The goal was to develop lower-limb prosthetics for wounded veterans. When the VA funding ended, in 1967, the project was transformed into The Berkeley Biomechanics Laboratory and continued into the mid-1970s on the Berkeley side of San Francisco Bay. For their work on that project, Professor Eberhart would be inducted into the National Academy of Engineering and Professor Radcliffe would earn the label father of prosthetic biomechanics. Around the original project, long before 1967, the UC Berkeley Mechanical Engineering Department had built a substantial biomechanics group, comprising, among others, Don Cunnigham (whose research was focused on instrumentation for the lower-limb prosthetics studies, and on ballistocardiography), Werner Goldsmith (whose research focused on the effects of impact on the human skull and protective helmet design), Stanley Berger (whose research was focused on non-Newtonian fluid dynamics of blood and the effects of sickel-cell disease), George Trezek (whose research was focused on biological heat transport), and Irving Fatt (whose research was focussed on oxygen transport in the blood and across contact lenses to cells of the cornea).

In the early 1960s, the National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS) established an Engineering in Biology and Medicine Training Committee. One of the committee's first missions was to visit campuses of universities likely to have ongoing biomedically related research in their schools of engineering, and to encourage a selected few of these to form unified programs and apply for NIGMS biomedical engineering training grants. Berkeley was among the chosen campuses, and Professaor Irving Fatt was selected to lead the effort on the application process (footnote). By this time, Professor Fatt had become a pioneer in solving the problem of oxygen transport through contact lenses (the cells of the cornea receive their oxygen from the eye's surface, either directly from the air, or from capillaries on the inner surface of the eyelid). He enlisted the assistance of Charles Susskind, Professor of Electrical Engineering, who represented a group of six EE faculty involved in biomedically-related research: Susskind himself (whose research was focussed on the effects of microwaves on living tissue), his former student, Paul Vogelhut (whose research was focused on the use of microwaves to monitor the structural changes in protein-bound water as enzyme-substrate reactions proceed), Aram Thomasian (whose research was focused on statistical analysis of multi-electrode EEG), Jerome Singer (whose research was focused on the use of nuclear magnetic resonance to monitor blood flow in living tissue), Martin Graham (whose research was focused on computer analysis of electrocardiogram signals- a project he'd started with Michael DeBakey in Houston), and Charles Dalziel (whose research was focused on the physiological effects of electric shock and who invented (in 1961) the GFCI device now found in most homes.

In 1959, R. Stuart Mackay (Biophysics, EE) and Elwin Marg (UC Berkeley School of Optometry, Department of Physiological Optics [now called the Department of Visual Science]) introduced the Mackay-Marg tonometer for measurement of intra-ocular pressure. Mackay had left Cal, but Elwin Marg stayed and became an important force in the evolution of bioengineering on the campus. He was one more person to include on Fatt and Susskind's training-grant application. Surveying the rest of the College of Engineering faculty, Professors Fatt and Susskind found that there were a total of approximately twenty engineering faculty members who worked either part-time or full-time on biomedically-related research. Graduate students were participating in almost all of it. In 1964, these activities were brought together under a single biomedical engineering graduate training program, for which a training grant was awarded. The grant originally provided fees and stipends for approximately 25 of the programís doctoral students each year (footnote). With the assistance of Professor Susskind, along with Howard Mel (Biophysics), and the strong encouragement of the College of Engineering Dean, George Maslach, Professor Fatt also established an undergraduate program in bioengineering (the undergraduate Bioengineering Science major), which proved to be very attractive to freshman applicants to Cal.

The excitment generated by all this activity led the EE (soon to be EECS) Department to look for additional faculty at the interface between engineering and biology or medicine. I came in 1967, soon to be followed by Frank Werblin (BS in EE from MIT, PhD from the new Bioengineering Program at Johns Hopkins University), and Edward Keller (BS from the US Naval Academy, PhD from Johns Hopkins Bioengineering). In the early 1970s, the Department added Thomas Budinger (M.D.) and Steven Derenzo, both of whom were employed at the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, working on medical imaging. Both now would teach part time and supervise graduate-student research in the Department's new Bioelectronics program.

Elwin Marg negotiated a deal in which the School of Optometry provided a faculty slot to be divided in two. Half would go to Irv Fatt, bringing him half-time into Physiological Optics; half would go to Larry Stark, who would be given the other half of Irv Fatt's Mechanical Engineering position. Larry Stark would leave the chairmanship of the Bioengineering Department at the University of Illinois Chicago-Circle Campus and take the half-time appointment in ME, half time in Physiological Optics. Another faculty slot in Physiological Optics went to Ted Cohn (PhD in Bioengineering from Michigan), another to Ralph Freeman (BS The Ohio State University, PhD in Biophysics from Cal); and the Department of Mechanical Engineering added a biomathematician, George Oster. By this time, the campus bioengineering community seemed to have reached critical mass and was thriving. Its faculty members were closely associated with- and often collaborated with those of the UC Berkeley Departments of Biophysics, Physiology, Zoology, Entomology, and Forestry, as well as Physiological Optics. And there remained some collaboration with UCSF-- mostly with Don Jewett, a sensory neurobiologist in the Department of Orthopedic Surgery.

The Joint Graduate Program is Born

In 1971, Julius Krevans migrated to the Bay Area from Johns Hopkins University, to serve as Dean of the UCSF School of Medicine. He and his family purchased a home in the Berkeley Hills, across the Bay from San Francisco. Their new home happened to be next to the home of Werner Goldsmith. With Krevans coming from one of the handful of Universities that had pioneered bioengineering education in the 1960s and Goldsmith by that time being a leader in the biomechanics program at Berkeley, it wasn't long before the two began to talk of creating a Hopkins-like program involving both campuses. Stan Berger soon joined them in what became a three-man conspiracy, pushing the idea especially on the Berkeley campus.

In the mid 1970s, during the tenure of Chang-lin Tien as chairman of the ME department, some of the key biomechanics faculty retired and were replaced by people in other areas. Professors Stark and Fatt moved to full-time positions in Physiological Optics; and George Oster (future MacArthur fellow and future member of the National Academy of Science) moved to the College of Natural Resources. This deliberate downsizing was especially alarming to Stan Berger and Werner Goldsmith. To them, action on the proposed joint venture between their UC Berkeley College of Engineering and Dean Krevans's UC San Francisco School of Medicine became urgent. Rather than attempting some sort of top-down mandate, it was decided to promote collaborative research through graduate students. Year after year, there had been very promising graduate-student applicants who turned down admission to Berkeley's College of Engineering because the Berkeley campus lacked the clinical environments they wanted for their thesis or dissertation research. At the same time, there were UCSF School of Medicine faculty seeking engineering help for their research projects. Graduate students clearly could be the glue binding the joint venture together.

Dean Krevans had picked Stan Glantz (UCSF Department of Cardiology) to be the point man for the School of Medicine. Stan began by collecting project descriptions from School of Medicine faculty members seeking engineering help. The availability of these projects was advertised in the Berkeley Catalog and very quickly began attracting highly qualified graduate students. As each student selected a project, one or more College of Engineering faculty members were recruited to mentor the student from the Berkeley side and to be available as engineering consultants for the project. The students were awarded the resulting graduate degrees by the Berkeley Campus. The success of this pilot program convinced Dean Krevans to press for something more formal, with degrees awarded by both campuses. The answer would be a two-campus Graduate Group (footnote).

Graduate Groups

Final authority for academic graduate degrees (Master of Arts, Master of Science, Doctor of Philosophy) on each University of California campus lies with that campus's Office of the Graduate Division. Most of those degrees are granted through academic departments, each of which has established its own set of admissions criteria, curricular requirements, examinations, and thesis or dissertation requirements. An emerging multidisciplinary area, such as bioengineering, might not be well served by the set of requirements in any single department. In such cases, faculty members from several departments can construct an appropriate set of requirements and seek authority through the Office of the Graduate Division to form a Graduate Group, akin to a super-department, specifically to offer academic graduate degrees in that emerging area. Approval of the program must be confirmed, in turn, by the campus Graduate Council (representing the campus Faculty Senate), the UC Systemwide Graduate Council, The UC Board of Regents, and the California State Post-secondary Education Commission. In the case of bioengineering, approvials were required from the graduate divisions and graduate councils of both campuses, Berkeley and UCSF.

While downsizing my files in 2014 I found the introduction to the proposal Stan Glantz, Stan Berger and I put together to request approval for the Joint UC Berkeley/UCSF Graduate Group in Bioengineering. This document defines roughly what it was that the two campuses, the UC Regents, and the California Postsecondary Education Commission all signed on to.

Proposal introduction

The first two paragraphs reflect my own bias-- toward reverse engineering of biological systems. It would be the Group's faculty and students that would determine the actual flavors of research undertaken; and those flavors would evolve as biology and engineering technology evolved. In fact, as the Group did evolve and mature, academic and medical departments used its presence as an inducement for faculty recruitment in emerging research areas. From the very beginning, the new Graduate Group's faculty included not only members of various departments in the Berkeley College of Engineering and various departments in the UCSF School of Medicine, but also members of various departments in Berkeley's College of Letters and Science, College of Chemistry, College of Natural Resources, and School of Optometry, UCSF's School of Dentistry and School of Pharmacy, and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. All of these people were involved in bringing broad areas of STEM to bear on problems in biology and medicine, and many were practicing biologists or clinicians with engineering backgrounds.

Berkeley bioengineering evolves

About ten years after formation of the Graduate Group, David Bogy became Chairman of the Mechanical Engineering Department (Chang-lin Tien had become Chancellor). Dave Bogy gradually restored the department's biomechanics component. What he sought next was expanded space and facilities for his new, world-class biomechanics group. A task force was formed to estimate the costs for such space and facilities and to incorporate the estimates into a written proposal. It was to be submitted to the committee seeking centerpieces for a massive new fund-raising effort initiated by Chancellor Tien. The proposal also included space and support for the Joint Graduate Group, which by then had become very successful.

The proposal was selected by Tien's committee as one of the three centerpieces of the fund-raising campaign. Tien had appointed C. D. Mote to be Vice Chancellor for Development, and Mote decided to limit fundraising for the proposal to a single source-- the Whitaker Foundation. This led to complete revision of the proposal's goals. The Foundation Board wanted to change the direction of bioengineering at Berkeley-- "to take it to a whole new level," as Mote's assistant put it. They wanted this to be achieved through a department of bioengineering; and they saw the presence of the Graduate Group as being an impediment to this goal. The Whitaker Foundation Board and Mote both wanted Berkeley to withdraw from the Group. Being the author of the original proposal as well as a dedicated supporter of the Group, I tried hard to convince them that this would be a huge mistake. My arguments were ineffective and exceedingly unwelcome.

Two sides of the issue

The new department emphasizes a new kind of bioengineering

As the new department evolved, it became clear that its environment was superb for certain areas of bioengineering, not good for others. Among Dave Bogy's young biomechanics faculty members, for example, one transferred to a full-time position in the new department, the rest tried half-time positions but eventually returned to full-time in the Department of Mechanical Engineering. The latter retained guest (0 FTE) appointments in Bioengineering, however, allowing their biomechanics courses to be listed as Mechanical Engineering courses and as Bioengineering courses. Thus, the traditional engineering departments would continue their own biomedically related research and teaching activities. At about this time, for example, the EECS Department made a large commitment to neural engineering (it already had ongoing efforts in robotic surgery and biomimetics). Watching this evolution, the College of Engineering Dean, Richard Newton, recognized the new department's special strengths in areas such as synthetic biology, and decided to reinforce those areas with additional faculty positions. Peopled now almost entirely with faculty recruited especially for it, the Bioengineering Department will continue to evolve; but it will do so in a context that includes substantial bioengineering activities elsewhere in its own college, in other colleges across the Berkeley campus, in Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, in the Energy Biosciences Institute, in the Synthetic Biology Institute, and in the health-sciences schools at UCSF. The Joint Graduate Group, the formal academic link between Berkeley and UCSF, was kept. The department offers two professional masters degrees on its own, but its PhD in Bioengineering is offered through the Group. And, for the entire bioengineering community on both sides of the San Francisco Bay, the Group continues to provide a vehicle for interaction and a common source of superb graduate students.

In 2009, Matthew Tirrell left his faculty position at UC Santa Barbara to become chairman of Berkeley's Bioengineering Department. In the seminar he gave to introduce himself to the campus community, he proposed bringing physiological systems analysis into the department. I suggested he talk to my friends in the Biomedical Simulations Resource (BMSR) at USC for leads on strong young faculty in that area. Interestingly, a year or two earlier, BMSR had sponsored a small, one-day, by-invitation-only conference on linear and nonlinear systems identification in the nervous system. The conference emphasized white-noise analysis and the use of Wiener/Volterra series. I had been invited as the discussant-- to summarize it all at day's end. Among the dozen or so invited speakers (other than me) were two current faculty members in the Joint Graduate Group, one former faculty member of the Group, and one graduate of the Group. In other words, the Berkeley/UCSF community already was well represented at the forefront of physiological systems analysis. Currently, the Berkeley Bioengineering Department has twenty-one core faculty members. The Joint Graduate Group adds another eighty one, eight of whom are members of other College-of-Engineering departments. Each of those faculty members brings a separate laboratory and research program to the bioengineering community. Even before the establishment of the Bioengineering Department in 1998, this rich collection of research resources attracted the very best graduate students (see footnote). In addition to its usual articles on the latest Berkeley contributions to neural engineering and ecological engineering, the latest issue (Spring 2016) of Berkeley Engineer lists four College-of-Engineering alumni inducted this year into the National Academies (Engineering, Science, Medicine). Two of the four were graduates of the Joint Graduate Group during those first fifteen years-- Tejal Desai, who enrolled as a student in the Graduate Group in 1994 and received her PhD from it in 1998, and Dennis Discher, who received his PhD from the Graduate Group in 1993. Both were inducted into the National Academy of Medicine.

How Berkeley rescued the Graduate Group in 1988

"Bioengineering," "Biomedical Engineering," "Engineering in Medicine and Biology," which is it?