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VOL. 23, NO. 2September 12, 1997

Richard Skalak, Bioengineer, 74


Richard Skalak, who was one of the first researchers in the field of bioengineering and who taught at Columbia for more than 40 years, died at the age of 74 on Aug. 17 at his home in San Diego. The cause of death was cancer, his family said.

  Skalak was among the first researchers to use engineering principles to understand biological problems. On sabbatical from Columbia in 1967, working in Sweden with P.I. Branemark of the University of Goteborg, he precisely described how red blood cells flow in human tissue, the first study to do so in quantitatively measurable terms. The resulting paper, "Deformation of Red Blood Cells in Capillaries," appeared in the journal Science in 1969.

  On his return to Columbia, he undertook a series of studies with Columbia colleague Shu Chien of the properties of red and white blood cells, blood flow, bone and soft tissue growth and how white blood cells move through the body in response to infections. With Branemark, he designed titanium dental implants; his studies of the interaction between titanium and human bone tissue have had wide application in skeletal reconstruction.

  He attended Columbia, receiving a bachelor's degree in 1943, a professional degree in civil engineering in 1946 and a Ph.D. in civil engineering in 1954.

  He joined the department of civil engineering and engineering mechanics as an assistant in civil engineering in 1944; he became assistant professor in 1954. He was named professor in 1964 and James Kip Finch Professor of Engineering Mechanics in 1977. He was chairman of the department from 1972 to 1975 and was director of Columbia's Bioengineering Institute from 1978 to 1987. In 1988, he was named James Kip Finch Professor Emeritus. Columbia recognized his lifelong contributions by establishing the Richard Skalak Colloquium in Biomedical Engineering. This year it takes place on Sept. 25.

  He is survived by his wife of 44 years, Anna; two brothers, three sisters, two sons and two daughters. A memorial service is planned for Oct. 5 at the La Jolla Presbyterian Church.