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New bioengineering lectureship to honor A.S. Michaels '44

A distinguished lectureship has been established in honor of Alan Sherman Michaels, an MIT alumnus, former professor and longtime friend of the Institute, in recognition of his role in the advancement of biomedical engineering.

The Alan S. Michaels Distinguished Lectureship in Biomedical and Bioengineering will be formally announced on Friday, Oct. 27, at a symposium honoring Dr. Michaels.


The symposium, "Defining the Frontiers of Chemical Engineering," will begin at 1pm in the Bartos Theater, E15-070.

Dr. Robert A. Brown, head of the Department of Chemical Engineering and the Warren K. Lewis Professor of Chemical Engineering, will open the symposium. Other speakers will be Dr. Robert S. Langer, the Germeshausen Professor of Chemical and Biochemical Engineering; University of Pennsylvania chemical engineering professor John A. Quinn; Robert S. Timmins, president and chief executive of Organon Teknika Corp.; Barry A. Solomon, executive vice president, Grace Biomedical; and Princeton University chemical engineering professor William B. Russel.

Dr. Michaels will conclude the program with remarks on "The Tentative Romance Between Life Science and Engineering: A Fifty-Year Retrospective, and Some Personal Aspirations."

The Michaels Lecture will be held each year and will bring to MIT a distinguished engineer from industry or academia to share views on research and development in the field of biomedical and bioengineering. The first lectureship is scheduled for next spring.

"I'm a champion of the whole concept of cross-disciplinary involvement," Dr. Michaels said, adding that the primary mission of the lectureship is to bridge the gap between the life sciences and engineering. Benefits of the collaboration should be reaped before the year 2000, he said.

Dr. Michaels was educated at MIT, earning an undergraduate degree in 1944, a master's in 1947 and a doctorate in 1948, all in chemical engineering. He joined the MIT faculty as an assistant professor in 1948 and became a full professor in 1961. He founded Amicon Corp., a biochemical corporation, in 1962 and left the MIT faculty in 1966 to become its president.

Shortly after he founded Amicon, its membrane division constructed a molecular filter from polymers which functioned like the human kidney. Dr. Michaels got involved with the National Institutes of Health program on artificial kidney development and was the only engineer involved in the advisory staff of medical doctors. He realized at that time, he said, that engineers had much to contribute.

"These were MDs trying to design equipment, and they really didn't know the principles underlying chemical engineering design. I found myself engaged in tutorial exercises with them to bring them abreast of what engineers had to contribute to the design and development of artificial organs. It was an interesting collaboration."

Dr. Michaels was president of Amicon until 1970, when he became president of Pharmetrics Inc., in Palo Alto, CA, a spin-off of Amicon. He retained his seat on that company's board until 1983, when it was acquired by W.R. Grace & Co.

The lectureship was established as a result of donations made by FMC, Alza, Collagen and Rogers Corporations, as well as from several MIT alumni, business associates and friends of Dr. Michaels.

During his 18 years of service at MIT, he played a major role in the development of an intensive teaching and research program in chemical soil stabilization, molecular transport in polymers and secondary oil recovery. He is now a consultant for several US companies.

The son of a lawyer, he was born in Boston and grew up in Newton. He and his wife Janet have two sons, both chemical engineers.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on October 18, 1995.

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