"A Superbly High
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
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,''
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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