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Celebrating the legacy of a biomedical engineering pioneer

24 August 2018
Andrew Ruys retires after 21 years in education and research innovation
The leadership and vision of Professor Andrew Ruys has contributed to the outstanding success of the University of Sydney’s biomedical engineering program – now the largest of its kind in the southern hemisphere.

Andrew Ruys’ tenure in the University of Sydney’s Faculty of Engineering and IT has been marked by biomedical engineering innovation in both education and research since 1997.

Australia’s first undergraduate degree in Biomedical Engineering – the Bachelor of Engineering Mechanical (Biomedical) – was launched the year after Professor Ruys joined the University. But its foundations were built on the strong research program in the School of Aeronautical, Mechanical and Mechatronic Engineering that decade, growing out of Materials research which drove the move into biomaterials and Rheology which led to soft tissue biomechanics research.

It was this rapid rise of biomaterials research that led to Andrew Ruys’ recruitment as a prestigious Sydney University U2000 Fellow, undertaking research on ZTA nanocomposites and functionally-graded biomaterials. He was awarded an ARC Queen Elizabeth II Senior Research Fellowship and led both the Biomaterials Research group and the School’s biomedical engineering program from 2003. Ruys became Director of Biomedical Engineering (Education) Faculty-wide and co-director of the Institute of Biomedical Engineering and Technology (BMET) in 2010. Two years later, he was promoted to Professor – the School’s first in Biomedical Engineering.

During his three decades of research excellence in biomaterials and tissue engineering, Professor Ruys has been responsible for a number of world firsts in research including the development of a spinal disk prosthesis that mimics the structure of the spinal disk, the discovery of the gas exudation mechanism in sintered HAp bioceramics, and the publication of the seminal paper on silicon-doped hydroxyapatite bioceramics for enhanced bioactivity, which is now a key paradigm in bioactivity enhancement.

More than academic achievement, Professor Ruys has had a profound impact on the student community during his time at the University, fostering links with industry and facilitating the internship and graduate opportunities that have underpinned the program’s success. Wanting to create an ‘esprit de corps’ around biomedical engineering, Ruys founded the student society, Sydney University Association of Biomedical Engineers (SUABE) in 2004 and implemented its lunchtime industry seminar program where students could network with visiting industry speakers and their employers.

‘I am very proud of SUABE,’ says Professor Ruys. ‘It’s now Australia's largest student–industry body in the biomedical engineering field with over 250 students, alumni and industry guests at their biannual events.’ 

Ruys’ passion for connecting students with industry continued with the uniquely named and operated ‘Magical Mystery Tour’. The tour bus, complete with its namesake Beatles signage, was an on-the-road class for his third-year Biomedical Design and Technology students visiting biomedical companies each week of semester 2 for several years until the ever-growing class numbers made it impractical.

No doubt Ruys’ innovative approach to education has contributed to the growth of the undergraduate degree at Sydney. When he was appointed Senior lecturer in 2003, there were only 15 enrolments. By 2008, Biomedical Engineering had achieved the highest first-year enrolment of any course in the Faculty with 74 students. Today the degree has almost 10 times that number of students enrolled– half of these being young women – and the course spans four Schools encompassing mechanical, mechatronic, electrical and chemical engineering as well as information technologies.

‘Andrew Ruys has been an instrumental part of our Biomedical Engineering program for the past three decades, guiding it very ably through an astonishing period of growth. His ability to connect research outcomes, industry engagement and a focus on the student experience has made this a truly comprehensive program that is training our next generation of Biomedical Engineers and preparing them for careers in an area of high growth,’ says Professor Stefan Williams, Head of the School of Aeronautical, Mechanical and Mechatronic Engineering.

Much of the success of our current biomedical engineering program and the lateral-mindedness and creativity of those he has taught can be tributed to Andrew’s example: his calm open-ended style of mentorship, his vision, practical lead and support in innovation, collegial approach with other disciplines, and strategic linking with clinicians and industry experts,’ says Dr Philip Boughton, the current Biomedical Engineering Program Manager who was also one of Professor Ruys’ PhD students.

‘I see a bright future for Sydney University’s Biomedical Engineering program,’ says Ruys. ‘It is the fastest growing branch of engineering today and a priority area for the University. As an Honorary Professor I look forward to assisting in its future success.’

 

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