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Engineering the perfect match

The consensus is that the biomedical engineering department at Georgia Tech and Emory has been a phenomenal success.

Larry McIntire never intended to get into matchmaking.A chemical engineer, he chairs the biomedical engineering department shared by Emory and Georgia Tech, and his interests always have been more academic than amorous. But every year, he finds himself standing in a room full of Emory clinicians and Georgia Tech engineers, breaking the ice, and helping them find potential partners as part of a day-long workshop. 

In this case, the matchmaking is for science. “Engineers say the different things they can do, and the clinicians say the kinds of problems they have,” McIntire says. The clinicians and engineers scope each other out, looking for signs they’ll be compatible with someone who has a complementary skill set. They’re hoping that together they’ll be able to solve medical puzzles with engineering solutions.

After all, that’s what the biomedical engineering department (BME) was designed for—uniting Emory doctors with Georgia Tech faculty who have the technical skills to engineer practical, important medical tools.

Setting up relationships isn’t all McIntire does. Since BME is one of just a few jointly run departments between a private and a public university, McIntire and his team cope with situations that never come up anywhere else: How do you maintain relationships when staff members work at campuses six miles apart? Or with colleagues 7,000 miles away where Emory and Georgia Tech have a third partner in Peking University’s biomedical engineering department? Which school pays for what expenses?

When the collaboration first started 13 years ago, even coming up with a name got complicated. At Emory, programs like biomedical engineering are called “departments.” But at Georgia Tech, BME is the only engineering program not called a “school.”

And yet despite the two different shades of red tape that McIntire sorts through on a daily basis, the consensus is that the biomedical engineering department at Georgia Tech and Emory has been a phenomenal success. The department is ranked as 2nd in the nation for biomedical engineering graduate programs by U.S. News & World Report, and it has spawned countless medical advances in areas ranging from veterinary science to cardiology. Its benefactor, the Wallace Coulter Foundation, for whom the department is named, has helped many of these advances get off the ground. Almost a third of its $25 million grant to the department in 2001 serves as an endowment to provide ongoing funding for translational research.  

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