The US National Committee on Biomechanics was founded in 1982 by a forward thinking group led by YC Fung, with the expressed purpose of promoting biomechanics, in all its dimensions, throughout the research community, in government agencies, and amongst the general public. These broad and ambitious goals have been accomplished over the years through a variety of activities and initiatives, and by the work of many dedicated individuals. I am pleased to have played some small role in the USNCB, and valued greatly the opportunities it has provided to all of us. I first became a member of the USNCB in 1997, served as Secretary (2000-2003), Vice Chair (2003-2006), and Chair (2006-2009). During that time a transition took place in that the primary focus shifted from organizing the US-China-Japan Biomechanics Meeting, to addressing the emerging role of biomechanics in new fields, not traditionally thought of as falling under the biomechanics umbrella. We did this through a series of initiatives, which I will describe briefly.
Our sense during the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, was that biomechanics was becoming viewed as a mature discipline, and that many felt the truly exciting research opportunities were to be found in other fields. Acting on the firm belief that this was not the case, we decided to organize a series of meetings which we called Frontiers in Biomechanics, patterned after the popular Gordon Conferences, with about 100 attendees. These were designed with the explicit goal of highlighting areas of biomechanics where new opportunities could be found, in many cases stretching the boundaries of what had traditionally been viewed as the domain of biomechanics. Frontiers Meetings were subsequently held in 2003, 2005 and 2011, with each having one or more focused topics and with an emphasis on attracting young bioengineers and researchers in closely affiliated fields. Topics included protein mis-folding, venous disease, bioMEMS, embryonic growth mechanics, mechanics of speciation & evolutionary biology, and most recently, the mechanics of development. These have been extremely successful, usually held in conjunction with a larger meeting, and effective in their purpose of highlighting the essential role of biomechanics in these cross-cutting or transformative fields. One measure of the success of these meetings is that many of these topics have become regular sessions in our traditional meetings on biomechanics.
A second initiative with a similar goal was to hold a Summit on Biomechanics in Snowbird, Utah in 2007, with the expressed purpose of defining the directions for biomechanics research in the next decade, and to disseminate the results of our discussions through a series of white papers to be published in the archival literature. We chose to organize discussions along the spectrum of length scales addressed in biomechanics research, from molecular to cellular, to tissue and organ. Through lively discussions at the meeting, and extensive interactions afterward, the following papers were published:
In part because of these meetings and discussions, biomechanics has been re-defined. Prime examples can be seen in the tremendous growth in the new discipline of mechanobiology, and the wonderful success of the new journal, Cellular and Molecular Bioengineering. The USNCB served a critical function in helping to facilitate these new directions, and more generally, has had enormous impact on our profession and beyond. I was pleased to have played a role, and have valued greatly the interactions with my colleagues that have been facilitated through the USNCB.