Biomed Engineering snags top professor

When Paul Fleury, dean of the Faculty of Engineering, opened up his e-mail account Friday, he found good news awaiting him.

Mark Saltzman, a biomedical engineering professor at Cornell, had just confirmed that he would come to Yale next fall as the University’s first tenured biomedical engineering professor.

“We’re delighted with the results,” Fleury said. “We couldn’t have asked for more in terms of the quality of the person and the promise that he brings to the program.”

Working primarily with drug delivery systems and tissue engineering, Saltzman will continue that research at Yale.

“In research, I am excited about things that are at the boundaries of disciplines, particularly engineering and medicine, and I think I will be able to share that excitement more effectively at Yale because of its strong commitment to teaching and the excellence of its medical research community,” Saltzman said.

Saltzman comes to Yale as the first official hire in a biomedical engineering initiative announced by University President Richard Levin two years ago. Granted six faculty slots under the plan, the Biomedical Engineering program has now invested two of them in appointing Saltzman as a senior professor.

Generally, a junior professor occupies one faculty slot and a senior tenured professor two.

Provost Alison Richard, Yale’s chief academic and financial officer, said because of Saltzman’s prominence, the University had to formulate a very attractive offer.

“My sense is that we beat out some other schools,” Richard said. “All recruitments in science and engineering are costly in this day and age. When you’re competing for the best, you have to be willing to make investments to get the best.”

Since its inception in the late 1990s, Biomedical Engineering had been a joint venture run by professors in the Faculty of Engineering and the School of Medicine. But with Saltzman’s leadership, many believe the program is on the way to becoming its own department.

“[Saltzman's] a domino in the process of achieving departmental status,” said James Duncan, director of undergraduate studies for Biomedical Engineering. “He’s interested in taking on a leadership role to further develop the program.”

Graduate School Dean Susan Hockfield said Saltzman was attracted to the prospect of pioneering a new Biomedical Engineering program.

“We don’t know what form BME will take,” Hockfield said. “But to be part of a new effort and to define how BME will evolve at Yale is very exciting.”

Hockfield said one influential reason for Saltzman’s decision was the close cooperation between the Faculty of Engineering and the Medical School.

Unlike Cornell, where the engineering school and the medical school are hours apart, the physical proximity of Yale’s medical and engineering schools is conducive to more interdisciplinary cooperation.

“One of the main reasons someone would come to Yale from an absolutely first-rate engineering program is our excellent medical school and the sense that there’s a real cooperative enterprise between the [medical school and the engineering school],” said Pierre Hohenberg, deputy provost of science and technology. “He’s a very important link between the two.”

Hockfield said such cooperation will allow both entities to benefit from each other.

“Yale has enormous strength in the biological sciences and considerable strength in engineering,” Hockfield said. “And the strong association with the med school will allow us to do things that are not possible elsewhere.”

A recipient of several teaching awards at Cornell, Saltzman also was enticed by the prospect of teaching high-quality undergraduates, Hohenberg said.

“He feels there’s the possibility of doing some very innovative things here because there isn’t an established track record,” Hohenberg said.

Duncan said Saltzman also intends to develop Biomedical Engineering courses for freshmen and allow undergraduates more research opportunities.

Hohenberg said the appointment is important because of the enormous growth potential biomedical engineering has as a field.

“Biomedical engineering is going to be a central theme in all engineering programs across the country,” Fleury said. “And with Mark Saltzman, I think Yale has a real chance of becoming one of the first institutions to get it right.”

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