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Bruce K. Hamilton
Division Director



Directorate for Engineering link to the eng home page

Biomedical Engineering/Research
to Aid Persons with Disabilities (BME/RAPD)

Program Directors

Gilbert Devey, Leon Esterowitz, and Semahat Demir


Biomedical Imaging and SensingBiomechanical/Cellular/Tissue Engineering
Biomedical Photonics
Research to Aid Persons with Disabilities
Undergraduate Design Projects
Active Awards


The mission of the BME/RAPD programs is to provide opportunities to develop novel ideas into projects that integrate engineering and life science principles in solving biomedical problems that serve humanity.  The program focuses on high impact transforming technologies for deriving information from cells, tissues, organs, and organ systems, extraction of useful information from complex biomedical signals, new approaches to the design of structures and materials for eventual medical use, and new methods of controlling living systems. This program is also directed toward the characterization, restoration, and/or substitution of normal functions in humans. Emphasis is placed on the advancement of fundamental engineering knowledge rather than on product development. The research might lead to the development of new technologies or the novel application of existing technologies. Undergraduate engineering design projects are also supported, especially those that provide prototype, "custom-designed" devices or software for persons with mental and/or physical disabilities. The program does not support clinical studies but initial evaluation in a clinical setting is encouraged.

The Biophotonics area is part of BME but is broken out separately because of its rapid growth in size and scope. Photonics is the technology of generating and harnessing light and other forms of radiant energy whose quantum unit is the photon. The unparalleled combination of spatial resolution, sensitivity, and spectral specificity of optical techniques has provided new biomedical research tools for visualization, measurement, analysis, and manipulation. In 1998 the National Research Council published a report on "Optical Science and Engineering for the 21st Century". The members of the committee responsible for the report were chosen for their expertise by the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, and the Institute of Medicine. In their Summary and Recommendations they state "NSF should increase its efforts in biomedical optics and pursue opportunities in this area aggressively." Innovative basic research in biomedical photonics that is very fundamental in science and engineering is needed to lay the foundation for new technologies beyond those that are mature and ready for application in medical diagnostics and therapies. The goal of the Biophotonics Program is to continue exploitation of the power of photonics to advance biomedical engineering. Developing molecularly specific sensing, imaging, and monitoring systems with high optical sensitivity, and resolution would be an enormous accomplishment with powerful applications to both biology and medicine. Low cost diagnostics will require novel integration of photonics, molecular biology, and material science. Complex biosensors capable of detecting and discriminating among large classes of biomolecules could be important not only to biology and medicine but also to environmental sensing and homeland defense.

The Biophotonics Program focuses on the development of complex new integrated bio-optical technologies utilizing advances in optical technology (quantum-dots, novel waveguiding structures, plasmon surface resonance, lens microarrays, nanochannel interconnects, multi-function focal plane detector/emitter arrays, MEMS/NEMS..) together with surface science, nanotechnology, microelectronics... into integrated optics solutions for sensitive, multiplex, high throughput, low volume (nanoliter-picoliter) characterization of macromolecular properties of cells. Some examples of biophotonic topical areas of interest are given but not limited to those below. Areas not encouraged include a) incremental advances of existing technologies; b) photon migration; c) two-photon and multi-photon imaging and spectroscopy; d) terahertz technology; e) fiber delivery systems and imaging catheters; and f) optical coherence tomography (OCT), unless coupled with novel enabling technologies.

Continued growth of the field depends on the availability of highly skilled individuals needed for the next generation work force.  Principal Investigators (PIs) of research projects are expected to include a strong educational component in their proposal work plan.  The education of undergraduate engineering students is enhanced through Undergraduate Design Project (UDP) awards supported by the RAPD program.   PIs in both the BME and the RAPD Programs are encouraged to apply for supplemental funding under the Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) Program and Research Experience for Teachers (RET) Program.

In the interest of focusing the efforts and optimizing our resources, the Biomedical Engineering / Research to Aid Persons with Disabilities programs have consolidated some of the key research areas and identified specific areas of interests.  At present we intend to focus on the following primary areas:

As always, exceptionally novel ideas in all areas of biomedical engineering are strongly encouraged.

Examples of topics in Biomedical Imaging and Sensing are:

  • Development of biocompatible implanted and/or minimally invasive sensors/imagers

  • Minimally invasive detection of pathologic tissues such as metastases and vulnerable arterial plaques

  • Methods for "endoscopic" optical imaging at the cellular and subcellular level.

  • Image and data fusion between biomedical imaging modalities.

  • Noninvasive optical remote sensing to detect key physiological and molecular concentrations in-vivo for anemia, jaundice, dehydration, glucose levels, drug levels, etc.

Examples of topics in Biomechanical/Cellular/Tissue Engineering are:

  • Development of basic science for the next generation of functional engineered tissues 

  • In vivo quantification/measurement of time-varying biomechanical environment in tissues and characterization of the mechanical properties of native tissues under sub-failure and failure conditions

  • Investigation of the in vivo physical regulation of cells during cell-cell and cell-matrix interactions.

  • Minimally invasive application of monitoring techniques to the study of tissue engineering, transplantation and tissue viability

  • Characterization/quantification/relationship between mechanical, chemical, electrical, optical, and biological properties of tissues, cells, and biomolecules

Examples of topics in Biomedical Photonics are:

  • Innovative methods for optical labeling of macromolecules, new compositions of matter/methods of fabrication of multi-color probes such as might be used for in-vitro marking and detection of specific pathological cells

  • New optical approaches that permit specific molecular action on cells which conjointly bind two or more different probes with specificity for different macromolecular markers

  • Development of new biocompatible detection technologies that could serve as massively parallel interfaces for communicating with networks of cells such as brain tissue slices

  • Innovative miniaturized optical tools or devices for the interrogation and manipulation or creation of specific reactions in complex cell or organ culture

  • Functional molecular imaging and cellular chemical imaging

  • Fundamental studies of novel photonic properties of nanoparticles or optical reporters and their interaction with cells and their internal organelles

  • Novel transduction methods for imaging multiple macromolecules in cells

  • Development of new classes of optical and sensory materials for bio-inspired optical components that will allow the development of multi-functional information gathering systems with capabilities that greatly exceed the current state of the art

Examples of topics in Research to Aid Persons with Disabilities and Home Healthcare Technologies are:

  • Novel acoustic wave processing and noise reduction techniques for applications such as hearing aids

  • Development of biocompatible detection technologies that could serve as massively parallel interfaces for communicating with neural tissue such as used in artificial retina

  • Novel technologies for home healthcare, such as new approaches for transdermal drug delivery and home healthcare medication management/telemonitoring

Characteristics of Undergraduate Design Projects to Aid Persons with Disabilities:

  • The primary goal of this thrust is to provide a meaningful design experience for the engineering student that will directly aid a specific disabled individual.  Undergraduate student engineers or engineering technology students provide prototype "custom-designed" devices and software to aid persons with disabilities.

  • The PI and the students work with institutions providing care or education for the disabled.

  • The PI provides an annual report that includes a description of the successfully completed design projects during the previous academic year.

  • Each PI is expected to implement a high percentage of projects each year. It is also expected that the projects will contain appropriate levels of quantitative engineering analysis.

Click below to view active awards:




Additional Information

Please check the latest Program Solicitation NSF 03-560 for information on deadline dates.

For more information you may contact:

G. Devey gdevey@nsf.gov , 703.292.7943
L. Esterowitz lesterow@nsf.gov , 703.292.7942
S. Demir sdemir@nsf.gov; 703.292.7950
FAX: 703.292.9098


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