Emory and Georgia Tech

For creating a top-ranked biomedical engineering program
Illustration by Studio Muti
Illustration by Studio Muti

It’s easier to navigate Atlanta traffic than to blend the engineers of a public university with the medical researchers of a private institution. But for seventeen years, Georgia Tech and Emory have shared a joint biomedical engineering program that produces hundreds of graduates along with promising medical advances—and keeps professors and students busy crossing town between North Avenue and Druid Hills.

“We were born out of a certain bold vision that was very risky,” says Ravi V. Bellamkonda, chair of the Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering, who has offices and labs on both campuses. But risk has paid off: The graduate biomedical engineering program is ranked second in the nation by U.S. News & World Report and attracts about $20 million annually in federal research grants. Today the program enrolls more than 1,360 undergraduates (three-fourths of whom conduct lab research) and 200 graduate students and involves twenty-seven faculty at Georgia Tech, seven at Emory, and more to be hired.

Connecting talent and resources on the two campuses has led to innovation and marketable new devices, leveraging Tech’s engineering prowess and Emory’s medical expertise.

“Wherever technology meets medicine, a biomedical engineer is involved in some shape or form,” says Bellamkonda. For example, Erika Tyburski developed a simple, color-based test for anemia when she was a senior at Georgia Tech. Now she’s working with pediatric hematologist and oncologist Wilbur Lam, an assistant professor at Emory and Tech and staff specialist at Egleston children’s hospital, on a startup that will produce and market an inexpensive at-home device. The joint program has led to the country’s only center for pediatric nanomedicine. “Our institutions are aligned to bring the best technology to the bedside,” says Lam.

Of course, there are mundane issues to contend with in a collaboration across academic bureaucracies. There is extra paperwork as the two universities jointly compete for research grants. The department has offices and labs on both campuses.
And because this is in Atlanta, there’s a traffic issue: Parking fees have to cover both universities.