EMBS at Half a Century

EMBS at Half a Century 150 150 IEEE Pulse
Author(s): Bruce Wheeler

I recently had the opportunity to give a short talk describing the IEEE Engineering in Medicine and Biology Society (EMBS) to students and faculty of the University of Florida. While looking over background material, I came to appreciate how deep and long the roots of our Society travel and how strong and wide it currently stands.
Our history is one of which to be enormously proud. Our present state is dynamic, rapidly evolving, and growing innovatively to meet the changing technological world and the needs of our members. The future is one of spectacular opportunities.


The EMBS traces its direct roots to the AIEE Committee on Electrical Techniques in Medicine and Biology (1948), the IRE Professional Group on Medical Electronics (1952), their eventual merger with the IEEE Professional Group on Medical Electronics (1963), and its renaming to the IEEE EMBS in 1968. The EMBS is now 65 years old as a continuous society and 50 years old as an IEEE Society. The Society began conferences in 1948, with the Society-wide annual conference starting in 1968. EMB journals began in 1948 and expanded with IRE Transactions on Medical Electronics in 1952, which evolved into IEEE Transactions on Biomedical Engineering in 1964.

Global Reach

The EMBS has the same global professional outreach as the entire IEEE. In the items that follow, you will see that the EMBS has become truly global—in membership, authorship, schools, and conferences.


The EMBS now has more than 9,800 members, including 1,900 student members, making it the largest biomedical engineering (BME) society in the world. This membership has been growing steadily through innovation in sponsoring Chapters, Student Chapters, and clubs and providing all with significant support for meetings and speakers, including our Distinguished Lecturers. Over half our members are from outside North America.
We are particularly proud of the first-ever student-organized EMBS International Student Conference in Cairo, Egypt (8–10 October 2013). Despite the unfortunate political difficulties at the time, the more than 200 attendees made it a spectacularly successful conference—so successful that we plan to use it as a model to grow student activity and membership all over the world.
While EMBS will always have strong electrical engineering (EE) roots, 60% of our members have degrees in fields other than EE and computer science, with significant membership from biomedical and industrial engineers and biomedical scientists. Over one-third of our members come from industry and government, a number we are working very hard to increase.
Our newest initiative—EMBS Mentor Connection—is off to a successful start and should increase our ability to serve the next generation of biomedical engineers.


No other BME society sponsors as many conferences as EMBS. Our conferences, with recent and future conference sites noted, include:

  • the Annual Engineering in Medicine and Biology Conference [>3000 attendees in Osaka (2013); Milan, Chicago, San Diego, Boston, Buenos Aires]
  • Neural Engineering (San Diego, Turkey, Hawaii, Cancun, Capri)
  • Biomedical Imaging (Bejing, San Francisco, Barcelona)—cosponsored with the IEEE Signal Processing Society
  • Biomedical and Health Informatics (Shenzhen, Spain, Greece)
  • Point-of-Care Health Care Technologies (Bangalore)
  • HealthCare Innovations (Seattle, Washington, Houston)
  • Biomedical Robotics and Biomechatronics (Sao Paolo, Rome)
  • Rehabilitation Robotics (Zurich, Seattle)
  • Micro and Nanotechnology in Medicine (Hawaii)
  • Grand Challenges in Biomedical Engineering [Washington (3); EMBS members have organized two IEEE Life Science Initiative Grand Challenge Meetings].


No other BME society comes close to sponsoring as many journals and for as long a time. Our record is one of dynamism and expansion to growing areas of BME. Approximately three-fourths of our authors are from outside North America.

  • 1964: IEEE Transactions on Biomedical Engineering (roots to 1948)
  • 1982: IEEE Transactions Medical Imaging (EMBS lead, shared with other IEEE Societies)
  • 1982: IEEE Engineering in Medicine and Biology Magazine (until 2010, now IEEE Pulse)
  • 1993: IEEE Transactions on Rehabilitation Engineering (until 2001, now IEEE Transactions on Neural Systems and Rehabilitation Engineering)
  • 1997: IEEE Transactions on Information Technology in Biomedicine (through 2012, EMBS-lead, shared; now IEEE Journal of Biomedical and Health Informatics)
  • 2001: IEEE Transactions on Neural Systems and Rehabilitation Engineering (formerly IEEE Transactions on Rehabilitation Engineering)
  • 2002: IEEE Transactions on NanobioScience (EMBS-lead, shared)
  • 2004: IEEE/ACM Transactions on Computational Biology and Bioinformatics (IEEE Computer Society-lead)
  • 2007: IEEE Transactions on Biomedical Circuits and Systems (IEEE Circuits and Systems Society-lead)
  • 2008: IEEE Reviews in Biomedical Engineering (EMBS-lead, shared)
  • 2010: IEEE Pulse (redesigned magazine)
  • 2013: IEEE Journal on Biomedical and Health Informatics (EMBS lead, shared)
  • 2013: IEEE Journal on Translational Engineering in Health and Medicine (one of the first three IEEE all open-access journals).

EMBS International Summer Schools

Unusual for a professional society, EMBS sponsors a growing number of week-long immersion summer schools. With superb faculty and an excellent reputation, admission has become highly competitive, attracting the world’s best students. Through these efforts, we are laying the foundation for the next generation of leaders in the world of BME. Recent schools included:

  • Biomedical Imaging (France)
  • Biomedical Signal Processing (Italy)
  • Biocomplexity and Biodesign (Turkey)
  • Medical Devices and Biosensors (Hong Kong)
  • Neural Engineering (Shanghai; new in 2013)
  • Telemedicine (Slovakia; new in 2013)

IEEE’s Expanding Involvement in the Life Sciences and Biomedical Engineering

We are not the only ones to have noted the spectacular expansion of biomedical engineering around the world, which has led the United States to quadruple the number of BME departments in the last 20 years. In academia, this interest and demand quickly exceeded the resources of any single department, leading to the beginning of a wave of coordination of BME activity across colleges of engineering, entire campuses, and medical schools.
The same explosion of interest has spread rapidly across the IEEE, far exceeding the scope and resources of EMBS. The IEEE Nuclear Sciences and Ultrasonics Societies have very substantial biomedical engineering activity, principally in imaging, with perhaps 25% of their journals’ content related to biomedical engineering. The IEEE Computer and Signal Processing Societies are also quite active, and both share conference and/or publication activity with EMBS. But the interest is present and growing in many other Societies, too. For example, the IEEE Microwave and Communications Societies are both considering shared journals that have significant BME content. Many other Societies sponsor conferences with biomedical tracks that give focus to their members working in these areas.
More generally, it is clear that there is much intellectual property developed across the entire IEEE that is not specifically aimed at biomedical problems but is foundational to biomedical technology, including areas such as improved laser technology, improved scintillation detectors, faster data mining algorithms and hardware, more secure data transfer procedures, and a myriad of wireless communication technologies.
The IEEE has initiated the Life Science Community (LSC) to help address the coordination of the tremendous breadth of activity and opportunity within the IEEE, and to attract new people to the IEEE. The LSC has held two Grand Challenge Conferences and has a Web site and newsletter that aggregates IEEE life science activity for distribution worldwide. This effort has great potential to complement, augment, and synergize activity by the EMBS and the other IEEE Societies. As we approach our next half-century, EMBS looks forward to working with the LSC to further expand the impact of BME.