September 30, 2008

Bioengineering leader set to inject entrepreneurial spirit

Posted: September 30, 2008

William Ditto Download image

An accomplished researcher, scholar, administrator and entrepreneur is the new chair of the Harrington Department of Bioengineering in the Ira A. Fulton School of Engineering at Arizona State University.

William Ditto comes to ASU from the University of Florida, where he is the founding chair of the J. Crayton Pruitt Family Department of Biomedical Engineering, and holds the position of J. Crayton Pruitt Family Eminent Scholar Endowed Chair. 

Ditto worked in research for the U.S. Navy and in prominent science and engineering departments at Georgia Tech and Emory University prior to joining the University of Florida in 2002. 

He has founded three companies based on technological advances developed through his research.

The entrepreneurial spirit that is a focus of ASU’s model for the “New American University” is a significant factor in his decision to take a new job. 

“A cornerstone of ASU’s philosophy is the encouragement of rapid movement from creativity and discovery to invention, to putting new technology out there into the market and the community,” he said. “I want to become a part of that trajectory of aggressive innovation that ASU is leading.” 

Deirdre Meldrum, dean of the engineering school, said Ditto was selected for his potential to play a key role in plans to expand the school and cement its place among the leading engineering schools in the nation. 

“His creativity, experience and tenacity to implement ideas will enable ASU to build stronger partnerships with the medical community in the Valley, to grow our bioengineering research and to train out students to be the biotechnology leaders of the future,” Meldrum said. 

Community support of biomedical research, along with the talent at ASU and many of the hospitals and health care institutions in the Phoenix area, excite Ditto about opportunities in Arizona.  “All of this provides a good environment for bioengineering endeavors to accomplish the kind of progress that is going to better the human condition,” he said. 

There currently are 16 full-time faculty in the Harrington Department of Bioengineering and about 110 students in its graduate programs. About 425 undergraduates are majoring in bioengineering. 

He plans to structure the department to maximize opportunities for faculty – and students – to become innovators and entrepreneurs, particularly in helping create a “bio-silicon valley” in the Phoenix area.

Ditto said he wants to take “a bold and inventive approach to educating future leaders in biotechnology. I hope many of our graduates will be taking their mastery of bioengineering into medicine, law, politics, government and many other endeavors.” 

Ditto’s achievements have drawn recognition in a variety of technological areas.

 Aspects of his work on control of chaotic behavior – an irregular but ubiquitous behavior in physical and biological systems ranging from cardiac arrhythmia to brain seizures – have been featured in magazines and newspapers such as Science News, Time, Discover, Scientific American, Nature, Science, The New York Times and the Washington Post. 

His work on control of cardiac and neural chaos has gained international attention and led to several patents for control of cardiac chaos and neural chaos. 

He has been a semi-finalist in Discovery magazine’s Awards for Technical Innovation, and named one of the Top 50 Research and Development Stars of 1995 by the publication Industry Week. 

Results of his research and development efforts in computer science and engineering earned accolades from PC Magazine as one of the “10 coolest technologies,” and were featured in the international magazine The Economist and the MIT Technology Review, among others. 

His work also includes the development of therapies and devices for the control of epilepsy and the imaging of cardiac arrhythmia. 

Recently his contributions were recognized when he was named a Fellow of the American Physical Society and the American Institute of Medical and Biological Engineering.

Earlier in his career he was named Outstanding Young Professional of the Year by the Naval Surface Warfare Center and later received an Office of Naval Research Young Investigator Award. 

Ditto earned his Bachelor of Science degree in physics from the University of California, Los Angeles and his Ph.D. in physics from Clemson University.

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