Engineering reorg

School of Engineering creates new departments

The School of Engineering has reorganized three areas of study, creating the new Department of Biomedical Engineering and splitting the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science into two separate entities.

The reorganization was approved by the Board of Trustees' Academic Affairs Committee at its meeting on September 26.

David Kaplan © Mark Morelli

David Kaplan, who will remain director of the Bioengineering Center, has been named chairman of the Department of Biomedical Engineering. Biomedical engineering focuses on the design of tools and instruments used in medical and biological applications. Biomedical engineers, said Kaplan, may work on anything from a fiber optic system that would allow doctors to view the colon, to a drug patch worn on the arm to deliver nicotine, to an MRI that studies brain function.

Ripe for collaboration
Engineering Dean Ioannis Miaoulis said that biomedical engineering is the fastest-growing area in the School of Engineering. "The faculty wanted to work on collaborative research and develop new degree programs," he said, explaining some of the reasoning behind creating the new department.

Kaplan said the work is interdisciplinary in nature, bringing together such fields as medicine, biology, computer science and mechanical and electrical engineering.

"The primary drive for the creation of the new department has been student demand," he said. "It is growing at both the undergraduate and graduate level. It also reflects the growing interdisciplinary nature of engineering and provides a very useful conduit to develop further interfaces with the School of Arts and Sciences and the clinical sciences."

Kaplan said the demand for programs and courses in biomedical engineering stems from new developments in biology. "This is the century of biology, with human genome discoveries and new developments in molecular and cell biology. With improved understanding, you can now think about designing new systems to get more information or to be less invasive in the body. This is coupled with advances in computer science and engineering."

Diane Souvaine © Mark Morelli

One makes two
The decision to create the new department was made at the same time that the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science has split into two departments. Prof. Diane Souvaine is chair of the Department of Computer Science, and Prof. Robert Gonsalves heads the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering.

Souvaine said the change provides the "enormous opportunity for both groups to grow and energize their programs but continue to work collaboratively.

"The two departments together have grown tremendously to the point that it was the largest department in the school, and we house an enormous number of degree programs. It's a good time to have somewhat smaller groups of people each looking out for the particular degree programs in their purview," she said.

"In a way, the splitting of our department into a Department of Computer Science and a Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering is a result of the overwhelming success of the merger of the electrical engineering and computer science departments in 1994," said Gonsalves, who chaired the joined department from 1996 to 2000.

"Nine years ago, electrical engineering had 12 faculty, and computer science had five," Gonsalves said. "Electrical engineering graduated 36 students, and computer science graduated 16."

Gonsalves said the growth of the computer industry dictated a growth in computer-related education, and Tufts responded by merging the two departments. "At the time," he said, "computer science was giving an introductory course to 350 liberal arts students each year, and conditions were ripe for more CS majors. The computer engineering program in electrical engineering was also growing. A merger was appropriate."

Robert Gonsalves © Mark Morelli

The CS program now graduates 60 students each year, 30 from the School of Arts and Sciences and 30 from the School of Engineering. The electrical and computer engineering program also graduates 60 students each year, 30 electrical engineering majors and 30 computer engineering majors.

A fish story
And what prompted Gonsalves to take on the department chairmanship once again? "This summer, Dean Miaoulis, my good fishing buddy, asked me if I wanted to chase stripers and blues off Cape Cod," he said. "I should have suspected something was up. On the way down to the boat ramp, he told me that he and most of the electrical engineering and computer science faculty wanted me to return as chair of the new electrical and computer engineering department. I demurred. But after a spectacular catch of 18 blues and four stripers, I agreed—all the better to serve our students."