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You Visit Tour. Webb Lion Fountain. June 1 2017. Photo David B. Hollingsworth

ODU to Graduate First Class of Biomedical Engineering Ph.D. Students

Biomedical engineering (BME), the application of engineering principles and design concepts to medicine and biology for healthcare purposes, has been identified as an important new frontier of research and economic development nationwide, including here in Hampton Roads.

Old Dominion University has invested in research combining engineering and biological sciences for more than a generation, through laboratories such as the Frank Reidy Research Center for Bioelectrics, and the Laser & Plasma Engineering Institute.

Now Old Dominion is helping contribute new minds to the collective body of scholarship into biomedical engineering, graduating its first class of Ph.D. students in the new academic discipline.

Nick Waytowich from Jacksonville, Fla.; Yalda Shahriari from Mashhad, Iran; and Fei Xie from Shenzhen, China, will receive their doctoral degrees in biomedical engineering from Old Dominion on Saturday, May 9.

Dean Krusienski, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering and graduate program director for BME, said the University is being responsive to both societal engineering needs and the potential for economic growth in creating the BME graduate program.

"I think biomedical engineering is an actively growing and important area," he said. "Prior to this program being created, we had a lot of biomedical research being done at the University. This helps add to our research expertise."

Krusienski added that biomedical engineering is approaching an almost 50-50 split of male to female graduate students nationally, making it quite unique among traditionally male-dominated engineering programs.

That gender equity extends to the dozen students in the BME doctoral program. This year's graduates include two international students, one of whom is a female engineer; and American-born Waytowich.

In Krusienski's Advanced Signal Processing in Engineering and Neuroscience (ASPEN) lab, students work on projects related to understanding the electrical activity of the brain for developing assistive devices for the severely disabled. Waytowich, who is advised by Krusienski, has modified an electric wheelchair so it can be moved through signal processing of brain waves.

Waytowich said it has been exciting to be part of a brand-new doctoral program, operating out of the brand-new Engineering Systems Building lab.

"There are always challenges being the first class in a new program, but it's been great," Waytowich said. "I've really enjoyed working in this lab, and it's exciting to be part of creating something new."

Waytowich recently was lead author in an academic article published in the respected Journal of Neural Engineering, and he has a handful of other articles in submission surrounding his research into brain-computer interfaces.

Waytowich will continue this line of research when starting his post-doctoral studies at Columbia University in June.

Because the discipline is still maturing, Krusienski said other local institutions like Eastern Virginia Medical School are eager to share in research efforts, and partner with Old Dominion.

"There are a number of active biomedical engineering programs across the state, but our unique niche helps us play a leadership role in Hampton Roads," he said.