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Wise delivers Distinguished University Professor lecture

Ken Wise faced a tall order during the April 2 William Gould Dow Distinguished University Professorship lecture: making a highly complex topic entertaining and educational–for an audience of technical and non-technical people.

Wise, a professor of electrical engineering and computer science, rose to the challenge with a lecture titled "Integrated Sensors, MEMS, and Microsystems: Interfacing Electronics to the Non-Electronic World." The hour-long presentation focused on the differences between microelectronics and microsystems: Whereas electronic devices can communicate and process data, microsystems technology can gather it from the non-electronic world, then analyze it and "make decisions."
Wise (Photo by Martin Vloet, U-M Photo Services)

Wise dramatized the potential of such devices by showing a film clip of a patient with Parkinson's disease. When doctors activated an implanted microelectronics device, the patient stopped shaking immediately. Wise said this and other microsystem technologies will have a profound impact on the non-electronic world, including areas as disparate as health care, global warming, pollution control and homeland security.

President Mary Sue Coleman introduced Wise, saying that his career is a "clear illustration of the best kind of interaction among disciplines."

Wise pointed out that his career was a product of his past. "I grew up in the Sputnik era," he said. "At that time, if you were good at math and science, you were expected to go into science or engineering. I understood at that point that engineers didn't drive trains anymore, but I really didn't know what engineering was. However, I know now. It's simply the application of science to the benefit of mankind. Between that and teaching, I can't think of two areas in which I would more have liked to spend my career."

After Wise spoke, Coleman said the lecture "shows us how valuable it is to have a University that's so broad in its scope. He can walk over to the Medical School and collaborate with people who deal with deafness. He can work with neurologists. He can work with people in mechanical engineering. This kind of interdisciplinary capability is remarkable."

Stephen Director, the Robert J. Vlasic Dean of Engineering, praised Wise, saying he "exemplifies the values and strengths of the University and exceeds all of the criteria that help to define a Distinguished University Professor. His research has put the College of Engineering on the map in the area of microsystems."

Wise, who began his career at the University as assistant professor of electrical engineering and computer science in 1974, now is the J. Reid and Polly Anderson Professor of Manufacturing Technology and the head of the University's Engineering Research Center for Wireless Integrated MicroSystems.

Of all his many accomplishments throughout his career, Wise said he treasures two awards above all others. "One of them, of course, is this Distinguished University Professorship, because it's nice to be well thought of among your peers where you work," he said. "The other one is the Aristotle Award, because it's based largely on input from former students."

Larry Sumney, president and CEO of the Semiconductor Research Corp., which presented the Aristotle Award to Wise in 1997, said students' letters characterized Wise as a "learned man, a seeker of knowledge, a teacher, a mentor, an advisor, a colleague, and above all, a very good friend."

Wise said this impact on students might be the most meaningful aspect of his career. "There are many ways I'd like to be remembered," he said, "but perhaps more than anything I hope that I've been a good teacher."

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