Lew Thomas Artwork

This painting (oil and acrylic on canvas, 48”x36”) by Lewis J. Thomas, Jr., M.D., former Director of BCL and Assoc. Director of IBC, commemorates the 50th anniversary of the founding of the computer labs. Read more about the painting.

The Biomedical Computing Institute was created in 1984 with the administrative unification of two independent computer laboratories at Washington University: the Biomedical Computer Laboratory (BCL) and the Computer Systems Laboratory (CSL).The Biomedical Computer Laboratory was chartered as a Research Division with the Washington University School of Medicine in 1964 to develop and apply computer technology to biomedical research problems. Its main goal was the development of new application areas suitable for laboratory computing. BCL worked closely with the Computer Systems Laboratory (CSL), a group within the University’s School of Engineering. The CSL brought the Laboratory Instrument Computer (LINC) to Washington University; its initial project was the development of Macromodules as tools for designing and building experimental computer systems. This work led in turn to applications experiments, research in molecular modeling, studies of the ‘glitch’ or metastability problem that arises in communication with computer systems, and designing VLSI integrated circuits.

Examples of the early work of the BCL include projects in sensory evoked-response recording and analysis, radiation treatment planning, nuclear medicine, ECG rhythm monitoring, fetal ECG analysis, analysis of CAT-scan data, and quantitative tissue characterization via ultrasound. Later projects included positron-emission tomography (PET), physical and RFLP mapping of DNA, electron-microscopic autoradiograhy, computational optical sectioning, radiation treatment planning, and applications of massively parallel computation to computionally demanding algorithms.

Both the BCL and CSL played a major national role in pioneering the acceptance of laboratory computing by the biomedical research community. Their successful projects not only closely involved scientific collaborators throughout all stages of system design, development, and evaluation, but also introduced students from the engineering disciplines into the biomedical research laboratory.

As access to personal computers that could be readily adapted to laboratory applications became commonplace, the need for specialized hardware design diminished and the BCL and Computer Systems Laboratory (CSL) were merged in 1984 as the Institute for Biomedical Computing. The primary mission of the Institute for Biomedical Computing was to pursue research in the use of advance computational and theoretical methods for the solution of biomedical problems.

In 2000 the Institute for Biomedical Computing was reorganized to include tenured faculty in three departments (Biochemistry and Molecular Biophysics, Biomedical Engineering, and Genetics) as the Center for Computational Biology (CCB), to focus on the unique opportunities presented by sequencing of the human genome as well as the genomes of other species.

Recording and transcript of the Jerome R. Cox, Jr., Oral History at Becker Library.

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