• Reflections by Van Mow

    A Brief History of USNCB: Motivation and Formation


    During the pre-recorded historical period of modern (defined as mid-20th century and later) biomechanics, a few leading, clear thinkers asked of themselves, how do we create a discipline; in particular, the  discipline of biomechanics? There had been brilliant and intrepid  engineers, mechanists and scientists making isolated, often minute,  contributions to science, beginning with Galileo. In more recent time, Y.C. Fung in his 1981 monograph on Biomechanics: Mechanical Properties of Living Tissues, Springer Verlag,  attributes to Hermann von Helmholtz the title “father of  bioengineering”. During the mid-20th century, circa 1955, some ingenious  and creative engineers (fluid dynamists, aeronautical, chemical, civil,  and mechanical engineers, etc.) and applied mathematicians turned their  attention to detailed studies of biologically and physiologically motivated problems. (These problems often addressed classical conundrums  in physiology.) These individuals were scattered around the globe,  particularly in the U.K. (eg, Cambridge University, Imperial College,  Oxford University, University of Leeds, Strathclyde University) and the U.S. (eg, Columbia University, MIT, Stanford, University of Washington, UCSD, Wayne State) to name a few. While these contributions were very  important and excellent, they were largely isolated, and at best sporadic, and academic curiosities.

    At Cambridge, Sir G.I. Taylor in the late 1950s began work on a propulsion mechanism for sperms swimming through a viscous fluid, and Sir M.J. Lighthill began studies on the mechanisms for birds flying, fishes swimming and other forms of aquatic animal propulsion. In the mid-1960s, at Imperial College London, M.A.R. Freeman led a team of engineers and surgeons to study the structure-function of tissues such as the articular cartilage of diarthrodial joints and intervertebral  discs of mammalian spines, and at Oxford, during the same time period,  J. Goodfellow, an orthopaedic surgeon, led a team of engineers to develop total hip and knee replacements. At the University Leeds, V. Wright, a rheumatologist, and D. Dowson, an engineer, led a group to  study biotribology (friction, lubrication and wear of joints) and the etiology of osteoarthritis. The most successful orthopaedic surgery research was developed by Sir J. Charney’s team of surgeons and engineers at the Wrightington Hospital’s Centre for Hip Surgery, who developed a PMMA cementing technique for fixation of the femoral and acetabulum components into arthritic hips. This led to a revolution in orthopaedic total joint replacements for many patients suffering advanced stages of osteoarthritis, and opened this vast clinical areas for orthopaedic joint replacements, knees, shoulders, etc. This led to  the huge influx of bioengineers into the field of orthopaedic research,  not only in U.K. but also around the world. At Strathclyde J.P. Paul was  instrumental in advancing methods to analyze human gait studies. Most of these advances occurred during the decade of 1960, and early 1970s.  It is to be noted that while these events seems to be sudden or  revolutionary, they were preceded by many isolated brilliant groups of scientists and engineers working around the world; the accretion of these results appears to be revolutionary for the distant observer. Some of these “revolutionary” efforts continue to this date.

    During this same period, 1950-1960, in America, perhaps due to its size,  the biomechanics efforts appeared to be scattered and sparse. Mostly,  biomechanics studies were focused on blood flow in the mammalian  vasculature, and air flow in the lung, in many of its manifestations, eg, propagation of waves through the arterial system, and largely motivated by copious amounts of literature from the physiologists. Notable amongst this large volume of physiological literature was from  the European continent, eg, German and Swedish physiologists, and 3  important American biomechanists: Y.C. Fung of Caltech and UCSD, R.  Skalak and S. Chien (a trained physiologist) of Columbia, and M. Anliker  of Stanford. Of particular interest is that all the above mentioned  intrepid pioneers were from the fluid mechanics side of mechanics;  Skalak being an exception who studied and taught civil engineering at  Columbia, albeit also from the fluid mechanics side pursuing  collaborative research with S. Chien on microcirculation. Fung focused on fluid-solid interactions in his initial studies based on his extensive research experience on aeroelasticity emphasizing the interactions between aerodynamics pressures and elastic deformations and  stresses in wing structures, eg, air flow through lung tissues. Beside this American bi-coastal emphasis, H.R. Lissner began his efforts at Wayne State University in Michigan beginning in the early 1950s in his studies of the biomechanics of the musculoskeletal system following the tradition of Galileo and Leonardo Da Vinci, and motivated out of the need to understand the effects of impact on whole human bodies, or  segments of human bodies necessitated from the need to understand the  mechanics of the pilot ejection from fast flying airplanes or automobile  crashes. Some of this early work was collated in an ASME publication, 1967, entitled Biomechanics Monograph, edited by E.F. Byars, R. Contini and V.L. Roberts. Roberts (Duke University) and F.G. Evans would go on to establish the Journal of Biomechanics, one of today’s flagship journals of the field. The first in the series  of the ASME conferences on biomechanics began with the publication on the symposium held at Georgia Tech: Proceedings on the 1973 Biomechanics Symposium: Properties of Biological Fluids and Solids; Mechanics of Tissues and Organs, edited by YC Fung and JA Brighton (Penn State). This meeting was  timely, and was very successful, and attracted many adherents, many of  whom were young traditionally trained engineers in aeronautical engineering, civil engineering, electrical engineering, materials engineering, mechanical engineering, etc. There were very few biomedical engineering departments in the country training biomedical engineers. However, over the years, this cadre of young and talented engineers  became the well-spring for biomechanics and biomedical engineering. This series continues to date with the Annual Summer Bioengineering Conference, SBC, which is now one of the major forums for bioengineering and biomechanics.

    The Coalescence of Young Engineering Talents and New Visions for Bioengineering

    During this period, there were few forums, except those which were  afforded by the traditional engineering professional societies of ASME, ASCE, IEEE and AIChE for engineers to meet, to present the results of  their studies; moreover, there were very few jobs that employed biomedical engineers…this was a situation that was to change in the  succeeding decades. During the late 1960s and early 1970s, due to the  international and national unrests caused by the Viet Nam War, many of  these traditionally trained engineers were seeking new ways to express  their creative energies and devoting their talents other than projects on topics related military needs. Among this “second generation” of  young engineers were the future stars of biomechanics. A short list of  these early second generation bioengineers, or biomedical engineers (in  alphabetical order) were: S. Atluri, T.B. Belytschko, D.L. Butler, K.B.  Chandran, E.Y.S. Chao, S.C. Cowin, E.A. Evans, T.K. Hung, W.C. Hayes, I.  Knets, W.M. Lai, R.S. Lakes, Y.K. Liu, R.M. Nerem, V.C. Mow, A.B.  Schultz, W.C. Van Buskirk, S.L.Y. Woo; most of these traditionally trained engineers presented papers and/or attended the 1973 ASME  Biomechanics Symposium mentioned above. Amongst this list of “second  generation” biomechanics are 8 fellows of the National Academy of  Engineering, and 3 fellows of the Institute of Medicine. Indeed, biomechanics, and bioengineering, were attracting many young engineering  talents into the “field”.


    In 1931, ICSU in an International Council for Science of  non-governmental organizations with a global membership of national  scientific bodies (120 Members, representing 140 countries) and  International Scientific Unions (31 Members) was formed. ICSU’s mission  is to strengthen international science for the benefit of society. To do  this, ICSU mobilizes the knowledge and resources of the international  science community to: 1) Identify and address major issues of importance  to science and society; 2) Facilitate interaction amongst scientists  across all disciplines and from all countries; 3) Promote the  participation of all scientists—regardless of race, citizenship,  language, political stance, or gender—in the international scientific  endeavor; 4) Provide independent, authoritative advice to stimulate  constructive dialogue between the scientific community and governments,  civil society, and the private sector. The long-term strategic vision is  for a world where science is used for the benefit of all, excellence in  science is valued and scientific knowledge is effectively linked to  policy making. In order to achieve this vision, ICSU developed a  Strategic Plan 2006–2011 which identifies key priorities and associated  activities. These activities focus on three areas: 1) International  Research Collaboration; 2) Science for Policy; 3) Universality of  Science.

    The main ICSU Secretariat (19 staff in 2012) is based in Paris and  ensures the day-to-day planning and operations under the guidance of an  elected Executive Board. A small number of Policy Committees assist the  Executive Board in its work and a General Assembly of all Members is  convened every three years. ICSU has three Regional Offices—Africa, Asia  and the Pacific and Latin America and the Caribbean. The offices  support scientific networks in their regions, facilitate the  participation of scientists from developing countries in the activities  of ICSU and its Members, and ensure that the ICSU strategy and  activities are responsive to the needs of developing countries. The  activities of the offices are guided by dedicated regional scientific  committees. ICSU also has 17 Interdisciplinary Bodies, established with  various strategic partners, that address major issues of relevance to  both science and society.

    The principal source of ICSU's finances is the contributions it  receives from its members. Other sources of income are the framework  contracts from UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) and grants and contracts from United Nations  bodies, foundations and agencies, which are used to support the  scientific activities of the ICSU Unions and interdisciplinary bodies.

    ICSU was founded in 1931 to promote international scientific  activity in the different branches of science and its application for  the benefit of humanity. It is one of the oldest non-governmental  organizations (NGOs) in the world and represents the evolution and  expansion of two earlier bodies known as the International Association  of Academies (IAA; 1899-1914) and the International Research Council  (IRC; 1919-1931). In 1998, Members agreed that the Council’s current  composition and activities would bebetter reflected by modifying the  name from the International Council of Scientific Unions to the  International Council for Science, while its rich history and strong  identity would be well served by retaining the existing acronym, ICSU.

    ICSU's strength and uniqueness lies in its dual membership of National Scientific Members and International Scientific Unions.  The wide spectrum of scientific expertise in the membership, allows  ICSU to address major, international, interdisciplinary issues which its  Members could not handle alone. The Council acts as a focus for the  exchange of ideas and information and the development of standards.  Hundreds of congresses, symposia and other scientific meetings are  organized each year around the world, and a wide range of newsletters,  handbooks and journals is published.

    The Formation of IUTAM and Implications for the Formation of the USNCB

    The International Union of Theoretical and Applied Mechanics was initially proposed by Professor Theodore von Kármán (later founder of Guggenheim Aeronautical Laboratory of Caltech, and JPL) at a conference held in Innsbruck in September 1922. The purpose of this conference was to discuss questions related to hydrodynamics and aerodynamics,  and perhaps to establish a much needed world-wide forum to discuss  these topics. Following the World War I, however, due to political  tension remaining amongst European nations, and with America, individual  national Congresses on applied mechanics were held in various  countries, but not a Union. It was not until September 1946 that at an  organizing meeting held in Paris at Sorbonne that the stellar cast of  applied mechanists and applied mathematicians (including: H. Villat, M.  Roy, J. Pérès, A. Caquot, A. Kolmogorov, K. Popoff, R.V. Southwell, G.I.  Taylor, C.B. Biezeno, J.M. Burgers, J. Ackeret, R. von Mises, J.P. den  Hartog, and Th. von Kármán) that a draft of a set of by-laws was written  for governing the proposed International Union became acceptable. In a  letter from J.M. Burger, January 1947, the members of the IUTAM were  informed that the Statutes for the formation of IUTAM were adopted. An  application was immediately sent to ICSU for admission. In the circular  letter of June 1947, it was mentioned that ICSU had accepted IUTAM as  adhering body. In September 1947, in view of the planning for the  Congress of 1948 that a provisional Bureau was chosen, with R.V.  Southwell as acting president, H. Villat as acting vice-president, H.L.  Dryden as acting treasurer, and J.M. Burgers as acting secretary. Thus  IUTAM was launched, and continues to this date with congresses following  every 4 years.

    IUPESM  is composed of two organizations: International Federation for Medical  and Biological Engineering (IFMBE) and the International Organization  for Medical Physics (IOMP). Both of these organizations independently  support for their ~100 independent national members totaling more than  40,000 individual members. IOMP was formed in January 1963 initially with 4 affiliated national  member organizations. The Organization has a membership in year 2010 of  80 national member organizations and 6 regional organizations. IOMP is  charged with a mission to advance medical physics practice worldwide by  disseminating scientific and technical information, fostering the  educational and professional development of medical physics and  promoting the highest quality medical services for patients. IOMP works  together with such International Organizations as the International  Atomic Energy Agency and World Health Organization of the U.N. to  strengthen the role of medical physicists.

    IFMBE was formed in 1959 by a group of medical engineers, physicists and  physicians met at the 2nd International Conference of Medical and  Biological Engineering, in the UNESCO Building, Paris, France. At that  time there were few national biomedical engineering societies and  workers in the discipline joined as Associates of the Federation. Later,  as national societies were formed, these societies became affiliates of  the Federation (see Wikipedia site on IFMBE). In the mid-1960s, the name was shortened to International Federation for  Medical and Biological Engineering (IFMBE). Its international  conferences were held first on a yearly basis, then on a two-year basis  and eventually on a three-year basis, to conform to the practice of most  other international scientific bodies. The short-lived Annual  Conference on Engineering and Biology (an American effort: ACEMB) joined  IFMBE, ca. 1976, and was subsequently dissolved as an independent  conference. As the Federation grew, its constituency and objectives changed. During  the first ten years of its existence, clinical engineering became a  viable sub-discipline with an increasing number of members employed in  the health care area. The IFMBE mandate was expanded to represent those  engaged in research and development and in Clinical Engineering. The  latter category now represents close to half of the total membership. As  of October 2010, IFMBE has an estimated 130,000 members in 61  affiliated organizations. The current president of IFMBE is H.F. Voigt  of Boston University; Voigt is a Past-President of the American  Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering (AIMBE), 2005-2007. The  publication Medical & Biological Engineering & Computing (ISSN 0140-0118) is an organ of IFMBE.


    Following the 1973 Summer Biomechanics Symposium held at Georgia Tech, held under the auspicious of the ASME Divisions of Applied Mechanics and Fluid Mechanics, this summer event continued bi-annually, slowly at the beginning, but eventually gained significant momentum. Today, this  meeting is known as the ASME Summer Bioengineering Conference, SBC, and  is one of the major bioengineering events annually with approximately 1000 active bioengineers in attendance. The conversion from the  Biomechanics Symposium to the Annual Summer Bioengineering Conference took place 20 years after the Georgia Tech Biomechanics Symposium; this  meeting was held at Breckenridge, CO, June 27, 1993. The ASME Journal of  Biomechanical Engineering carried and issue containing the proceedings from the 20th anniversary symposium.

    In the 20 years between the 1973 Biomechanics Symposium and the 1993 Summer Bioengineering Conference, much organizational efforts took place to create the discipline of bioengineering, as we know it today. Some  of the original participants of the Georgia Tech Biomechanics Symposium  (D.L. Butler, Y.C. Fung, R.M. Nerem, V.C. Mow, A.B. Schultz, R. Skalak,  S.L.Y. Woo) met at various ASME conferences and other venues to discuss  the possibility of forming an international union such as IUTAM. On  occasions, a few other bioengineers who happened to be present at some  of these meetings were invited to attend and make input. As these  meetings were open forums and all were welcome to attend. At one of  these meetings, Fung suggested approaching ICSU to incorporate the  embryonic concept of USNCB to be incorporated into ICSU. Soon, it was  learned that IFMBE already occupied that position, and ICSU felt that an  international union or committee with a scope focused on biomechanics  would be too narrow. This idea, ie, approaching ICSU, was soon  abandoned. However, work continued to define the concept of USNCB was  led by Y.C. Fung and V.C. Mow. The scope, and by-laws, for USNCB was  written, and regularly meetings of USNCB were held beginning late 1982,  mostly at ASME Bioengineering forums. As with the early days of IUTAM, a  strategy was developed for the USNCB meetings, and an overall agenda  for USNCB was eventually developed: 1) to establish and coordinate  international meetings on biomechanics; 2) pursue and foster new areas  of biomechanics and bioengineering research; 3) take a leadership role  in establishing an umbrella organization for biomechanics and  bioengineering.

    Under the auspicious of the USNCB, and developed from the foresight of  Prof. Y.C. Fung, who had already developed the ground work for the first  U.S.-China-Japan biomechanics held in Wuhan, China, May 9 – 12, 1983.  Proceedings from this biomechanics symposium was edited by Y.C. Fung, E.  Fukada, and J.J. Wang, and published by Science Press, Beijing, 1984.  Participants of this meeting included 15 delegates from the U.S., 8  delegates from Japan, 71 from China, and 1 each from France,  Netherlands, and Italy. American participants (in alphabetical order)  included: Y.C. Fung, N.H.C. Huang (Univ Houston), J.L. Katz (RPI), J.S.  Li (UVa), V.C. Mow, R.M. Nerem, R. Skalak, S. Weibaum (CCNY), T.Y. Wu  (Caltech). The subsequent quadrennial U.S.-China-Japan meetings were  held at the University of Osaka (1987), Japan, Georgia Tech in Atlanta  (1991), Taiyuan, China (1995), Sendai University, Japan (1998). In 2004,  to increase geographic coverage, this conference was broadened to  include Singapore. These meetings had a major influence in promoting  biomechanics on the international stage.

    To define an effort for the second overarching goal of USNCB, ie, to pursue and foster new areas of biomechanics and bioengineering research,  a conference was convened for discussions at a workshop on “Tissue  Engineering”. This workshop was sponsored, and attended, by  representatives from the NSF, ONR, DOE, NASA and Red Cross, October  28-30, 1987 in Washington DC. In attendance also at this planning  workshop were various university representatives from disciplinary areas  of cell biology, medicine and bioengineering. From this workshop, the  NSF Division for Emerging Technology Research Initiations and Prospects  recommended that a Tissue Engineering forum be held to develop the  substance of “tissue engineering” as defined by those who had been  active in bioengineering and biomechanics. Thus, the first tissue  engineering conference was convened at the Granlibakken Hotel, Lake  Tahoe, California on February 26-29, 1988. The USNCB took a major role  in organizing this tissue engineering conference. Over 75 bioengineers  and scientists participated in this first tissue engineering conference.  A proceeding volume entitled: Tissue Engineering, edited by R. Skalak and C. F. Fox  was published in 1988, Alan R. Liss, Inc., New York. In this volume  appeared the first public definition of tissue engineering. “Tissue  Engineering” is the application of principles and methods of engineering  life sciences toward fundamental understanding of structure-function  relationships in normal and pathological mammalian tissues and the  development of biological substitutes to restore, maintain, or improve  tissue function, by R. Skalak, C.F. Fox, Y.C.B. Fung. This  definition evolved from a summary meeting of the conference;  participants of this summary meeting included most those who had  participated in organizing the USNCB.

    The third goal, that the USNCB would take a leadership role toward  establishing an umbrella organization for representing the disciplines  of biomechanics and bioengineering. This goal was much more difficult to  achieve and took much longer to realize. Efforts toward achieving this  goal began modestly with a visit to the NSF in Washington DC in the  late-1980s by three bioengineers: D.L. Butler, V.C. Mow and S.L.Y. Woo. A  meeting with John A. White took placed at the NSF in Washington DC;  White was assistant director of engineering at the NSF from 1988 to  1991. This was a very discouraging meeting. In essence, White informed  and rebuked the three naiveties that NSF  cannot, and would not, deal with such narrowly focused fields or  parochial interests such as biomechanics. Fortunately, USNCB had been  established on a firm foundation, in the tradition of IUTAM, and had  sufficiently broad memberships by then, and it provided a stable vehicle  to continue the efforts to create an umbrella organization to represent  the field of biomedical engineering or bioengineering. A recurrent  topic of discussion at these USNCB meetings during this period for the  formation of AIMBE was what role will USNCB have following the creation  of AIMBE?  AIMBE is now a non-profit organization headquartered  in Washington, D.C., representing 50,000 individuals and the top 2% of  medical and biological engineers. Indeed,  during the period immediately following the creation of AIMBE,  activities of USNCB diminished considerably. However, with almost every  human endeavor, today, following the infusion of new talents, USNCB has  gain renewed vitality and momentum. Indeed, the current efforts bode  well for USNCB to continue to serve a vital role for the discipline of  biomechanics.