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A new degree in biomedical engineering will be available starting fall 2006, making Cal Poly the first California State University to offer the major. Students will have the opportunity to learn how to create pacemakers, catheters and other health care devices under the new program.

“Students choose the biomedical engineering field to serve people and for the excitement of working with living systems,” department chair Dan Walsh said. “They are able to apply advanced technology to the complex problems of medical care. There is a huge pile of unused technology that can be whittled away at, and right now there is a lot of space to do that sort of thing.”

For the past 10 years, students have studied biomedical engineering under the general engineering major, but beginning next fall biomedical engineering will be a new department due to the large number of students interested in the field.

“We’re meeting both student demand and marketplace demand with this major,” said Amy Hewes of the College of Engineering.

Walsh explained that in addition to student demand for the major, the degree will also be offered in response to the government, which is investing in the field of biomedical engineering across the nation.

“The government recognized that this is an area that is important, so they are investing in order to work to improve devices in a hospital, safety in a monitoring system, change instrumentation and develop new techniques in health care,” Walsh said.

St. Jude Medical recently gave the new department $500,000 to support the new curriculum, build laboratory facilities and create research opportunities for both students and faculty. While other medical centers have contributed to the development of the new department, Walsh said St. Jude Medical has been the most interactive and generous in their support, giving more than $2.5 million over the last few years.

“It’s unbelievable what you can do to increase the survivability of people across nations,” Walsh said. “Through biomedical engineering you can identify the early stages of diseases, build heart monitors and target particular chemicals in the body through studying the chemical, mechanical and physical environments of cells.”

The new program will be offered under the university’s “4+1” plan that allows students to earn a Bachelor of Science degree in four years, then stay for a fifth year to earn a master’s degree.

“A simple definition of engineering is the application of science, math and art for the good of mankind,” Walsh said. “Biomedical engineering has a direct impact on individuals’ lives; it benefits others and there is no other field where that is more obvious.”

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