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The Trinity Reporter Spring 2003
The BEACON consortium
Creating partnerships and educational opportunities in biomedical engineering

by Michael Bradley ’98

Beacon staff members Jeff Horn, industrial liaison officer; Joseph Bronzino, director; and Jane Mussehl, program coordinator 
photo: Nick Lacy

Could Hartford some day be to biomedical engineering what Silicon Valley is to the computing industry? Joseph Bronzino believes so, and the Vernon Roosa Professor of Applied Science and President of the Biological Engineering Alliance and Consortium (known as BEACON) hopes to see that it becomes a reality in the near future.

Founded initially in 1997 with funding from the Whitaker Foundation, BEACON has evolved to become an alliance of academic, medical, and corporate organizations dedicated to the development of new medical technology. BEACON pools the talents and resources of Trinity and other academic institutions, including the University of Hartford, the University of Connecticut, and the University of Connecticut Health Center, the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, Springfield Technical Community College, and, most recently, Drexel University, as well as medical institutions such as Hartford Hospital, the Yale-New Haven Hospital, John Dempsey Hospital, the Baystate Health System, and Saint Francis Hospital. Since its inception, BEACON has attracted a veritable who’s who of the region’s most prominent biomedical engineering companies, including Boston Scientific, Connecticut Light & Power, Pfizer, GE Medical Systems, and Tyco Healthcare.

“Our objectives are to stimulate collaborative research, encourage industrial partnering so that academics and industry can work together on specific projects, and facilitate the development of new incubating companies to take ideas that may exist on the campus and make them realizable as commercial products,” Bronzino says.
Prior to the consortium’s inception in 1997, Bronzino approached the presidents of Trinity College, the University of Hartford, the University of Connecticut, and the University of Connecticut Health Center and suggested that the institutions would benefit from pooling their strengths in biomedical engineering. He received permission to proceed from Trinity’s former president, Evan Dobelle, and the other presidents, and quickly assembled a task force drawn from the prospective consortium institutions. Backed by a $1-million grant from the Whitaker Foundation, Bronzino and the fledgling BEACON group set out to achieve the goals funded by the grant. These included integrating the educational opportunities in bioengineering for students in the region; hiring additional faculty in biomechanics, biosensors, and bioinstrumentation; and facilitating medical technology transfer within Connecticut. Since that time, BEACON has grown from a small educational consortium to a multipronged alliance of corporations, medical facilities, and academic institutions that spans the so-called “Knowledge Corridor” between North Hampton and New Haven and, as a result, a sizable area of New England.

Creating educational opportunities for Trinity students

Through the BEACON consortium, Trinity students can take specialized courses at member institutions such as the University of Connecticut Health Center and receive credits toward their Trinity degree. Bronzino says BEACON has provided a variety of other opportunities for Trinity students to gain experience that may give them an edge in planning for a career in biomedical engineering.

According to Bronzino, “Trinity students have the opportunity to get involved with research projects of the biomedical faculty at the UConn Health Center as well as St. Francis and Hartford Hospital. They also may take advantage of the annual BEACON symposia and tech fair, which occurs each fall, thereby stimulating their intellectual interest in the fields of bioscience and bioengineering.”

  "At a BEACON symposium last fall, I was able to present research I had done in the lab during the year and over the summer to experts in the field." Josh Griffis'03
photo: Nick Lacy

Josh Griffis ’03, has participated since his junior year, attending events and enrolling in courses at the University of Connecticut Health Center. Griffis, a double major in biomedical engineering and electrical engineering, says that exposure is one of the best things he has gotten from BEACON.

“I’ve had a chance to see so many different topics and so many different presenters that I’ve been able to broaden my range of interests and pinpoint what I want to do in the future. At a BEACON symposium last fall, I was able to present research I had done in the lab during the year and over the summer to experts in the field.” Griffis says he is intrigued by developments in the area of stem cell research and has applied to graduate schools, where he plans to study neuroengineering.

“At Trinity, undergraduates also have an opportunity to see research and development turning into a commercial product,” Bronzino says. “It’s an education on how to transfer ideas and creativity into the marketplace, where they can eventually have a much larger impact on the quality of our lives, and, in the process, create jobs. In a large university, the only ones who experience this are graduate students.”

While students benefit from their enhanced access to businesses and educational institutions, member corporations may also turn to BEACON’s network of academic talent to obtain expert evaluations of upcoming products. “In industry, time is money,” Bronzino says. “At BEACON we can quickly refer companies to experts in whatever field they’re looking for.”

He hopes to see BEACON continue to enrich the biomedical research community and, by extension, to create new jobs. “Our main focus is Hartford and the ‘Knowledge Corridor.’ There is no doubt that Hartford can become a center for medical device and system development, making it an economic engine for the region.”

Bronzino expects BEACON to be a continued presence in brokering collaboration among academia, industry, and medical institutions in the future.

“We’re making people more aware of our activities, so we can create an environment that is essential for the creation of jobs in this area,” he says. “We are establishing an opportunity for continued enrichment of bioscience and biomedical engineering in the region of Greater Hartford and the Northeast. We are continually stirring the pot to form relationships and partnerships that will enhance the creative process.”

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