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Shu Chien Wins National Medal of Science

Bioengineering professor Shu Chien received the National Medal of Science from President Barack Obama on Oct. 21 at a White House ceremony. Chien is an expert on how blood flow and pressure affect vessels, and his research has led to the development of better diagnostic tests and treatments for atherosclerosis. He is also collaborating on multiple projects in regenerative medicine to develop a process to identify the best environments in which to grow stem cells.

Photo of Shu Chien and President Obama
Shu Chien receiving the National Medal of Science from President Obama.

Pleased and humbled by the honor, Chien said the National Medal of Science is an important symbol of the nation's investment in scientific research and innovation.

Ask Chien about the current state of science and engineering education and U.S. investment in scientific research, and you'll get a thoughtful answer built from his years of experience as a teacher, researcher and learner.

Unfortunately, he fears that investment is dwindling in ways that could cause longterm harm to the nation's economy and pre-eminence in science and engineering. "What makes the economy strong? It's the scientific base," said Chien. "Beyond the symbol, we need to have more substantive support," he added. In addition to spurring the kind of innovation that creates new technologies, companies and jobs, investment in research also encourages young people to pursue science and engineering fields. Chien left Columbia University to join the bioengineering program at UC San Diego in 1988.

The program had just six faculty members. Still, Chien saw what he could help build here; and the potential was too alluring to pass up. He led the effort to form the Department of Bioengineering in 1994. He currently serves as director of the UC San Diego Institute of Engineering in Medicine.

Now, the bioengineering department is a leader in systems biology, regenerative medicine and multi-scale bioengineering focused on understanding, diagnosis and treatment of human disease.

The department also ranks number one in the nation in bioengineering doctoral programs, according to the National Research Council. Chien said UC San Diego pioneered the multidisciplinary approach to solving big problems that all major academic institutions now want to emulate. "Every major medical school wants to link up with an engineering school," said Chien, who cited physical proximity; support from the deans of each of the relevant schools on campus; and exceptional faculty and students for UCSD's leadership in this area.

In honor of Professor Chien, a fundraising initiative is under way in the Department of Bioengineering. For information, contact Rodrick Echols at (858) 822-4444 or

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