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George Truskey: 2020 Distinguished Service Award
February 17, 2022
George Truskey has been at Duke for nearly three and a half decades serving in a wide variety of roles
George Truskey has been at Duke for nearly three and a half decades serving in a wide variety of roles. He has taught a number of courses and conducted research on bioengineering tissues in the cardiovascular system and disease in human microphysiological systems. In the biomedical engineering department (BME), he was the director of undergraduate studies for several years, before being appointed department chair for eight and a half years. Truskey was then in the dean’s office as a senior associate dean, first for research and then as overall senior associate dean. And as if those weren’t enough hats to wear, he has been an associate vice president for research since December 2020.
Truskey’s love of biomedical engineering began when he was an undergraduate at the University of Pennsylvania studying bioengineering in the late 1970s, well before it became the popular topic it is today. His first taste of research came as part of a work-study program, where he had a great mentor who helped make the job much more than just a job. The love of the project helped make Truskey interested in research, which pushed him into graduate school and, eventually, the decision to stay within academia.
Two years after earning his doctorate degree in chemical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1985, Truskey joined the faculty at Duke, where he has stayed ever since. There’s several reasons for his longevity at the school, including many fulfilling projects, continuing to conduct impactful research and the ability to help mold the next generation of researchers.
“One thing that keeps me at Duke are the students and my faculty colleagues,” Truskey said. “Because even though Duke isn’t very large, it’s a pretty collaborative place.”
During his many years at Duke, one of Truskey’s more memorable collaborations involved renovating the Gross Hall basement into the Foundry. Opened in 2015, the formerly forlorn basement now features 7,600 feet of project space for Duke student teams, faculty and staff focused on engineering, energy, entrepreneurship and sustainability to build ideas from the ground up. The modular and flexible workspace enriches the student experience by providing dedicated design and project space for class, co-curricular and entrepreneurial activities.
While serving as BME’s department chair, Truskey recalls helping Duke receive an endowment from the Coulter Foundation to support translational research by BME faculty. In his own research, Truskey has dealt with cardiovascular disease, and a number of years ago, he thought about creating a model in the lab to simulate the disease. While that is an idea that has ebbed and flowed over the years, he is well known in the field for his theories as to how cells adhere to materials and the experiments that prove them.
“If you stick with an idea long enough,” Truskey says, “the techniques you develop over time can come to accomplish it.”
As a professor, Truskey enjoys working with undergraduate and graduate students in the lab and the classroom. One of his students who had gone on to medical school, he recalled, recently came back to him. “She said that she really appreciated my course now,” Truskey said. “It was tough at the time, but she found it very beneficial in medical school.”
Outside of the classroom, Truskey has many fond memories of spending time on the main Quad several times after Duke won national championships to see the bonfires. After losing in the championship in 1999, Truskey remembers he was able to take his son to the celebrations after Duke won just two years later.
“That really shows the spirit of Duke and how everyone pulls together to enjoy a great victory,” Truskey said.