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Biomedical Engineering at Rensselaer

"A Superbly High Honor"

Van Mow '62 earns unique distinction for biomedical research

Van C. Mow '62, a renowned biomedical scientist based at Columbia University, became the first Rensselaer alumnus to be elected to the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences on Oct. 8, 1998. A member of the National Academy of Engineering since 1991, he is one of only 23 individuals in the United States who concurrently hold membership in these two prestigious academies.
   "Election to the Institute of Medicine is a superbly high honor for an engineer," says Robert Spilker, chairman of biomedical engineering at Rensselaer and a research collaborator with Mow. "Only a handful of engineers have achieved that.''
  Mow was elected for his outstanding contributions to the field of biomechanics, particularly for his landmark work on biologic tissues. Of particular interest are his studies on articular (joint) cartilage, how this tissue normally functions in diarthrodial joints (knee, hip, shoulder, ankle, wrist, etc.), and what happens to this tissue during common diseases such as osteoarthritis.
  Mow's 30 years of research has enabled bioengineers, physicians, and orthopaedic surgeons to gain a clear understanding of how the joints of our bodies function. His groundbreaking theoretical work, and the precision of his novel experiments, have made his 1980 Journal of Biomechanical Engineering publication on the behavior of articular cartilage one of the most frequently cited papers in the bioengineering literature worldwide.
  Mow, who earned his bachelor's in aeronautical engineering and doctorate in applied mechanics at Rensselaer, came to the study of biomechanics relatively late in his career. In 1969, he left military research at Bell Telephone Laboratories to return to Rensselaer as an associate professor in applied mechanics.
  "I was determined to use my engineering and mathematical skills for the benefit of mankind,'' says Mow.
  Lacking courses in biology and medicine, Mow taught himself, dictionary at his side, the basics of human physiology and biochemistry.
  "Through the good office of Dr. Crawford J. Campbell, who was chief of the division of orthopaedic surgery at Albany Medical College, I also learned anatomy and dissection techniques of the musculoskeletal system, and histology,'' says Mow.
  In 1971, Mow received a grant from the National Science Foundation for the very first proposal he ever wrote on a study of the lubrication of human joints. Now some 600 papers and six books later, Mow's works are recognized worldwide.
  After receiving high professional honors for his 1980 work, Mow became the first Ph.D. to be elected president of the Orthopaedic Research Society in 1981. Since that time, he has received numerous awards and has delivered more than 400 invited lectures and colloquiums nationally and internationally. While at Rensselaer, he was honored in 1981 with the John H. Wiley Distinguished Faculty Award, and in 1982 with the John A. Clark and Edward T. Crossan Endowed Chair Professor of Engineering.
  In 1986, Mow felt the need for a change. "I wanted to become more integrated into the mainstream of clinical orthopaedic surgery and biomedical research," he says. He joined the department of orthopaedic surgery at the College of Physicians & Surgeons, and the department of mechanical engineering at the School of Engineering and Applied Science, Columbia University. He is currently the Stanley Dicker Endowed Chair Professor of Biomedical Engineering and Orthopaedic Bioengineering, director of the New York Orthopaedic Research Laboratory, and chairman of the department of biomedical engineering.
  Mow is also very involved in professional activities. He is currently a member of the Committee on Space Biology and Medicine of the National Research Council to oversee the planning of biological and medical research activities for NASA's Space Station program.
  "So the journey comes full circle for me-my first love was aeronautical engineering," says Mow. "I now have the opportunity to combine my years of research expertise in biomedical research with flight."
  Mow and his four surviving brothers share among them 11 Rensselaer degrees, including three Ph.D.s. Bill Mow '59 is CEO of Bugle Boy and a trustee of Rensselaer. Thus there has been a Mow at Rensselaer continuously in one capacity or another since 1949 when Harry Mow '53 entered as a freshman. In 1958 and 59, there were four Mow brothers at RPI (Harry, Bill, Maurice '63, and Van). Donald received his bachelor's degree in architecture in 1957.


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