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Celebrating Twenty-Plus Years of Bioengineering at Stanford

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A wall of brilliant light reflected off of the sand-toned façade of the Stanford Memorial Auditorium, punctuating the rare 83-degree temperature on October 3rd, 2023. Inside, the stage is set - cool and dimly lit with charcoal chairs next to large 3D letters spelling out Stanford BioE. 

Attendees from every part of the Stanford community poured into the auditorium for the presentation of a live taping of The Future of Everything with Russ Altman podcast (a recording of which can be viewed here). This event fittingly kicked off the celebration of twenty-plus years of bioengineering at Stanford, featuring one of the founding Chairs of the department, Russ Altman, and one of the very first faculty recruited to the department, Karl Deisseroth, in his first appearance on the podcast.

The story that unfolds for Deisseroth mirrors what has become a hallmark of the Department of Bioengineering at Stanford: an ongoing journey to imagine, discover, and make the next set of tools and resources to improve the health and well-being of humanity and the planet.

Founded in 2002, the Department of Bioengineering at Stanford University has continued to grow and thrive while maintaining its roots in both medicine and engineering disciplines. Over the past two decades, the department has awarded 616 degrees and trained 242 faculty worldwide. These graduates not only go on to make incredible contributions to major global institutions but also train the next generation of scientists around the world. Through this lens, Stanford Bioengineering's impact in such a relatively short time is exponential.

A brief but lively coffee reception followed the taping. It featured some of the department's talented faculty, including 2023 NIH Pioneer awardees Polly Fordyce and Lei (Stanley) Qi, and former Chair and Senior Associate Vice Provost for Research Jennifer R. Cochran

Festivities continued at the Frances C. Arrillaga Alumni Center, wrapped in red, white, and gold florals. Guests ranged from current students and alums to former staff and university and industry leaders, including Jennifer Widom (Dean, School of Engineering) and Lloyd Minor (Dean, School of Medicine). Guests were treated to an up-close and personal look at the cutting-edge research coming out of the 30-plus labs in the department. A highlight of the event, the Bioengineering Pop-Up Museum had attendees clustered around 3-D printed blood vessels, captivating videos of flatworms, artistically rendered cells, and paintings colored with pigments derived from bacteria.

Beyond this impressive array of invention meeting art, the evening had even more in store for guests. Drinks and small plates were served as guests settled into seats for a debut screening of micro-documentary about the Department of Bioengineering developed in partnership with the School of Engineering and School of Medicine and a keynote address delivered by newly appointed Chair Markus Covert.

Covert offered reflections on the department's achievements over the past two decades, including student and faculty advancements in research, education, and impact in bioengineering. His address showcased the department's groundbreaking research, collaborations with the biomedical industry, and role in fostering startups and entrepreneurship. More than this, Covert highlighted the amazing community that has grown out of the department, not letting the audience forget that the heart of this work is people. 

The formal program concluded with a memorable live performance by the Stanford Mendicants against the flowing fountain backdrop of Ford Garden and two special young party crushers dancing their hearts out. Attendees spent the rest of the evening reconnecting with one another and taking their moments to join together on stage for a photo op with the 3D stage letters.

The celebration centered, above all else, on the community that supports it, underscoring that the Department of Bioengineering is poised to address global challenges through interdisciplinary research and education and, at 20, is just hitting its stride.

Here's to many more years of bioengineering at Stanford University.

Group of department alumni celebrating community together.