The University of Massachusetts Amherst
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College of Engineering Launches New Biomedical Engineering Department

Tammy Haut Donahue

Tammy Haut Donahue

In an article posted on October 16, the UMass News Office reports on the fifth department established by the College of Engineering, the Biomedical Engineering Department. Professor Tammy L. Haut Donahue, the founding department head, will lead the emerging program, which will offer bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees. The college will eventually hire 12 full-time, tenure-track faculty members for the department by the fall of 2022.

According to the UMass News Office posting on Inside UMass, Professor Haut Donahue says that organizing the new department is an opportunity to establish an outstanding program from the ground up that will lead UMass Amherst to produce students who are prepared for occupations in the life science industry, biopharmaceutical industry, graduate studies in biomedical engineering, or medical school. Through strategic faculty hires over the next five years, the department plans to be a research powerhouse providing cutting edge research opportunities,

As Professor Haut Donahue says. “This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to start a department from scratch, and I’m excited to have been chosen as the inaugural chair.”

Haut Donahue’s research work is in the area of analytical and experimental biomechanics with a focus on the musculoskeletal system. She comes to UMass Amherst from Colorado State University, where she was a professor and associate department head for undergraduate studies in the department of mechanical engineering. Haut Donahue was also a core faculty member in CSU’s School of Biomedical Engineering.          

The Inside UMass article explains that biomedical engineering (BME) integrates engineering science, biology, and medicine into a cross-disciplinary field focused on improving human health and solving problems in the delivery of health care. Its key principle is that by looking at the human body through the lens of engineering, one can apply the concepts of design, optimization, and programming to complex biological systems in order to detect, repair, and treat disease and to create diagnostic and therapeutic tools.

Timothy Anderson, dean of the College of Engineering, says adding the new department strengthens the college and promotes collaborative research and teaching across other disciplines on campus. “The close proximity to the biomedical and life sciences industry in Boston makes the UMass Amherst BME program attractive to students across the nation,” Anderson says. “Additionally, the BME program is expected to draw a large number of female students into the College of Engineering. Close connections with the UMass Medical School in Worcester will provide excellent translational activities for both graduate and undergraduate students in the program.”

An example of current research in the new department has the potential to revolutionize new materials. The skulls and horns of male bighorn sheep undergo massive impact loads during ramming, suggesting their structure and material constituents have been evolutionarily adapted to sustain very large impact forces while preventing catastrophic failure and brain injury.

Hence, the micro-architecture of the bighorn sheep skull and horns is being used to develop novel bio-inspired material designs for creating new lightweight, high-energy absorbing materials. The new materials could be used to fabricate a broad range of products, including athletic and military footwear, helmets and other protective gear, packaging, and other protective devices such as cell phone cases and crashworthy military and civilian vehicle panels and components. (November 2018)