Paul Bohn named director of the University of Notre Dame Bioengineering and Life Sciences (BELS) Initiative

Paul Bohn

Paul Bohn, the Arthur J. Schmitt Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering and professor of chemistry and biochemistry at the University of Notre Dame, has been named the inaugural director of the new Bioengineering and Life Sciences (BELS) Initiative.

A joint initiative of the College of Engineering and College of Science and a key priority in the University’s strategic framework, the BELS Initiative will advance human health and wellness through interdisciplinary biomedical research and training — from fundamental advances through detection, prevention and treatment of disease.

“Notre Dame is well-positioned to lead this transformative initiative and to spearhead discoveries that will directly improve human health, particularly for vulnerable and underserved populations,” said Patricia J. Culligan, the Matthew H. McCloskey Dean of the College of Engineering.

“I can think of no better inaugural director than Paul Bohn, whose deep experience and expertise span across the life sciences and engineering.”

Bohn is an internationally known leader in the field of analytical chemistry. He has served as director of what is now the Berthiaume Institute for Precision Health since 2008 and also directs the National Science Foundation-supported Center for Bioanalytic Metrology. His research focuses on molecular nanotechnology, personal health monitoring, and imaging of microbial communities. He is a fellow of the American Chemical Society, has authored or co-authored more than 300 publications and holds nine patents.

Bohn will work closely with an executive committee that includes Culligan; Santiago Schnell, the William K. Warren Foundation Dean of the College of Science; and Vice President of Research Jeffrey F. Rhoads to direct significant new investments in infrastructure and instrumentation over the next decade; work with academic units across campus to recruit faculty scholars to advance research and training in bioengineering and life sciences disciplines; and implement cross-disciplinary graduate and postdoctoral training programs.

“I am excited about this initiative because we are going to be addressing problems that very few other academic institutions are trying to solve, including rare diseases and global health disparities, which align with our Catholic mission,” Schnell said.

“We are trying to think strategically about how we can investigate biomedical problems by identifying the tools and technologies we can develop for better diagnostics and treatments anywhere around the world.”

More than 80 Notre Dame faculty and professionals are involved in bioengineering-related research and training in both of the colleges and in multiple dedicated institutes with thriving research portfolios. They study and build everything from engineering models of heart tissues to new drugs to treat cancer and diseases. The Bioengineering and Life Sciences Initiative will build on that strong foundation, facilitating the kind of collaborative, cutting-edge research that leads to impactful results.

“Instead of funding one idea from an individual researcher in a silo, now we are funding entire biomedical research projects as an enterprise,” Schnell said. “This kind of innovation doesn’t happen overnight. The work of the initiative — from identifying the specific research challenges to major breakthroughs — is a multiyear process. But over time, this University-wide effort will make Notre Dame a stronghold of world-changing biomedical research.”

Roughly half of the world’s population has limited access to essential health services, because of distance, poverty or both. The BELS Initiative will pay particular attention to these marginalized groups, and undertake research that can have a broad impact outside of a traditional hospital or medical facility setting. Notre Dame researchers are uniquely positioned to work with medical professionals around the world to identify and tackle the challenges they face in the field.

“What excites me most about the Bioengineering and Life Sciences Initiative is that it will be a great program in the spirit of Notre Dame’s mission to be a powerful means for doing good in the world,” said Bohn, who earned his bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Notre Dame in 1977 and his doctorate in chemistry from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

“This is an opportunity to work at the frontiers of biomedical research, and that’s exactly where Notre Dame should be.”

Speaking about Bohn’s service to the Berthiaume Institute for Precision Health, Rhoads said, “Paul has been one of our most effective institute directors. Through his directorship of the Berthiaume Institute for Precision Health, Paul used his exceptional, forward-looking leadership skills to grow the institute and help people produce their best work. Paul, thank you for your commitment to Notre Dame and its research mission. We cannot wait to see what you do next with BELS.”

An acting director of the Berthiaume Institute will be named in the coming weeks.

To learn more about the Bioengineering and Life Sciences Initiative, see

— Deanna Csomo Ferrell, Notre Dame College of Science