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ANNIVERSARY ARTICLE Origins and Development of Biomedical Engineering within Chemical Engineering
Nicholas A. Peppas
Dept. of Chemical and Biomedical Engineering, and Pharmaceutics, The University of Texas at Austin, 1 University Station C0400, Austin, TX 78712

Robert Langer
Dept. of Chemical Engineering, Massachusetts Institute of Technology,Cambridge, MA 02139

Over the past 45 years, the field of biomedical engineering has found a welcome home in academic chemical engineering departments and in companies working with artificial organs, medical devices, and pharmaceutical formulations. The contributions of chemical engineers to the definition and the growth of the field have been important and at times seminal. The development and earlycontributions in the biomedical field with special emphasis on the contributions of chemical engineers is examined. © 2004 American Institute
of Chemical Engineers AIChE J, 50: 536 –546, 2004

Keywords: biomedical engineering, blood rheology, hemodialysis, biomaterials, controlled release, tissue engineering

Origins of Chemical (and Biomedical) Engineering
In the changing industrial worldof the late 19 century, the chemical industry took a central position. At the end of the 19th century, the competition of England, Germany, and the United States for industrial chemicals had become rather fierce. It was not surprising then that in 1888, Lewis M. Norton (1855–1893) of the Chemistry Department of MIT offered a new course in chemical engineering. As Weber (1980) notes, the material wastaken predominantly from Norton’s notes on industrial practice in Germany, which at that time had probably the most advanced chemical process industry in the world. When Norton died in 1893, Frank H. Thorpe (1864 –1932), who had received a BS degree from MIT only four years earlier and a doctorate from the University of Heidelberg in 1893, took responsibility for Norton’s course. In 1898, hepublished what may be considered to be the first textbook on chemical engineering, entitled Outlines of Industrial Chemistry. This first chemical engineering textbook made mention of the chemCorrespondence concerning this article should be addressed to R. Langer at; N. A. Peppas’ e-mail address is:,

© 2004 American Institute of Chemical Engineers

icaltreatment of biological bioproducts, a very faint indication of very early biotechnology processes! In the next 50 years, the term Industrial Chemistry first appearing in Norton’s book to broadly describe industrial processes applied in the production of chemicals became associated with chemical engineering. Not until the radical approach to analysis of chemical engineering problems introduced by,among others, R. Neal Amundson and Rutherford Aris in the mid-1950s at the University of Minnesota, and R. Byron Bird, Warren E. Stewart, and Edwin N. Lightfoot at the University of Wisconsin, would “industrial chemistry” be clearly separated from the main goals of “chemical engineering”. Although Norton and Thorpe were the pioneers of chemical engineering at MIT, it was Arthur A. Noyes and laterWilliam H. Walker (1869 –1934) who introduced fundamental principles to the chemical curriculum (Peppas, 1989). After an MS in Chemistry at MIT (1887) and a doctorate at the University of Leipzig with Ostwald (1890), Noyes established the Research Laboratory of Physical Chemistry in 1903. Meanwhile, William Walker, who had received his doctorate in 1892 at the University of Gottingen ¨ with OttoWallach (Nobel Prize 1910), established in 1908 the Research Laboratory of Applied Chemistry. During the same period in England, Davis proceeded with the publication of his Handbook of Chemical Engineering,
Vol. 50, No. 3 AIChE Journal


March 2004

Table 1. Examples of Important Biomedical Research Contributions by Chemical Engineers
Subject Blood Rheology Artificial Kidney Design...
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