WPI to Present Three Honorary Degrees at its 134th Commencement

Contact: WPI Media Relations, 508-831-5616

WORCESTER, Mass. - May 15, 2002 -- At its 134th Commencement exercises on Saturday, May 18, WPI will award honorary doctorates to the developer of the first self-contained artificial heart, a noted author and authority on mathematics and science education, and a veteran of the Manhattan Project who is a pioneer in radiochemistry and the science of complexity.

The university will award 615 bachelor's degrees, 318 master's degrees and 25 Ph.D.'s during the ceremony, which begins at 11 a.m. on the Quadrangle (rain location, Harrington Auditorium). Dean Kamen '73, founder of DEKA Research Corp. and inventor of the IBOT mobility device and the Segway Human Transporter, will deliver the address. Kamen received an honorary doctorate from WPI in 1992 the university's first Presidential Medal in 2001. (See this related release.)

Honorary degrees will be presented to

George A. Cowan '41, senior fellow emeritus of the Los Alamos National Laboratory and Institute Distinguished Fellow of the Santa Fe Institute. After graduating from WPI with a degree in chemistry, Cowan, who also holds a doctorate in physical chemistry from Carnegie Mellon University, worked for the Manhattan Project, the top-secret World War II program to develop the first atomic bomb. Working in the Princeton University laboratory of Nobel Laureate Eugene Wigner, he helped demonstrate the feasibility of a sustained nuclear chain reaction, then became a member of Enrico Fermi's group at Stagg Field at the University of Chicago, where the first chain reaction was achieved.

After the war, Cowan joined the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico and participated in Operation Crossroads, the United States' first post-war atomic tests. His analysis techniques helped measure nuclear energy yields. In 1949, he developed techniques that verified the Soviet Union's first atomic bomb test. Later, as associate test division leader at Los Alamos, his research established him as one of the world's leading authorities on nuclear weapons diagnostics and won him numerous awards, including the Enrico Fermi Award, the highest honor bestowed by the U.S. Department of Energy.

In 1983, Cowan organized the founding group of the Santa Fe Institute, an organization where he served as president for six years. His vision was to create a center that would foster truly interdisciplinary work on some of the most important and intriguing complex, adaptive systems. A fellow of the American Physical Society, the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the American Academy of Arts and Science, Cowan is also a founding director of the Los Alamos National Bank, the largest private bank in New Mexico.

David M. Lederman, founder, chairman, president and CEO of ABIOMED Inc. in Danvers, Mass., developer of the AbioCor, the first self-contained, implantable artificial heart, which is currently undergoing FDA-approved clinical trials. Lederman's interest in artificial hearts was sparked in 1969 when he was a Ph.D. candidate at Cornell University, where he had already earned a bachelor's degree in engineering physics and a master's in aerospace engineering. After receiving his doctorate, he joined the Avco Everett Research Lab in Everett, Mass., where he would ultimately become chairman of the Medical Research Committee.

With support from the National Institutes of Health, he conducted research aimed at tackling some of the most important challenges facing artificial heart developers, including the need for biomaterials that will not damage cells nor promote the growth of blood clots, which can break free and cause strokes. He was the first to define quantitative design parameters for preventing the formation and migration of blood clots on blood handling devices. He was also the principal investigator on several projects, including one that produced the world's first implantable seamless blood pump.

When Avco put its medical business up for sale in 1981, Lederman purchased its intellectual property and technology for cardiac support and founded ABIOMED. There, he led the development of the BVS 5000 bi-ventricular support system, the only cardiac assist device approved by the FDA for clinical use, and oversaw the painstaking research that led to the introduction of the AbioCor replacement heart, which was implanted in human patients for the first time in 2001, garnering worldwide media coverage. The company says about 100,000 patients a year could benefit from the groundbreaking device.

Sheila Tobias, a leading authority and author on mathematics and science education. The author of Overcoming Math Anxiety, the best-selling 1978 book (recently released in an updated edition) and 10 other influential volumes, Tobias has spent much of her career exposing biases in the way math and science are taught that often discourage talented individuals from pursuing studies in these fields, to their detriment, and to society's.

After earning a bachelor's degree in history and literature at Harvard/Radcliffe and master's degrees in history and philosophy at Columbia University, she held positions as an academic administrator at Cornell University, where she helped organize the nation's first women's studies program, and Wesleyan University, where she began her influential work on why women avoid mathematics. She concluded that math anxiety, a term she popularized, is the result of a lack of confidence, rather than a lack of ability, and uncovered gender-based patterns in education that often inhibit otherwise intelligent students.

From 1989 to 1996, as consultant to the Research Corporation, she studies the factors that discourage many talented college students from pursuing studies-- and careers-- in math and science. She found that introductory college science weeds out all but the top tier of students, turning away many who might find a home in the sciences. Today, as outreach and dissemination coordinator for the Sloan Foundation's Science Master's Initiative, she is addressing another important "pipeline issue." Sloan has launched 60 professional master's degree programs at a number of universities, including WPI, that are preparing students who are not interested in academic or research careers to use mathematics in a wide range of other careers.

A sought after consultant, she has been a frequent speaker at WPI events, including programs for science educators and guidance counselors in Fairfax, Va., and Menlo Park, Calif.

About WPI

WPI is a pioneer in technological higher education, and is recognized as one of the leading outcomes-oriented undergraduate programs preparing people for success in our technological world. Since its founding in 1865, WPI has broadened and perfected an influential curriculum that balances theory and practice.

This innovative and unique combination of educational methods, learning environment and a worldwide network of project centers is located in Worcester, Massachusetts, WPI supports the academic and research pursuits of over 2,500 students and 200 faculty pursuing opportunities to blend technological research and practice with societal needs, delivering meaningful real-world benefits.

For over a century, WPI has awarded advanced degrees in the sciences and engineering disciplines, as well as the management of technology and business. Our alumni include Robert Goddard, the father of modern rocketry; Harold Black, inventor of the principle of negative-feedback; Carl Clark, inventor of the first practical airbag safety system; Dean Kamen, inventor of the first wearable drug infusion pump; and many others who contribute to the transformation of our technological world.