COOPERMADE: GPS for the Brain

COOPERMADE: GPS for the Brain

Although they didn’t attend The Cooper Union at the same time, Michael Sisti CHE'77 and Howard Amols PHY'70 found that, when working together, their engineering education led them to develop remarkably innovative practices in brain surgery. Sisti, a neurosurgeon who knew he wanted to be a doctor since childhood, sought out a chemical engineering education because, as he sees it, engineering has a lot in common with medicine. “Engineering is about taking the basic sciences—whether that’s chemistry, physics or mathematics—and applying them to solve practical problems. Medicine is the same thing. In both cases, the process of applying scientific knowledge to the practical problems of the real world is exactly identical. As a doctor, you use this knowledge to help people with their illnesses. As an engineer, I see how solutions have to be specific not only to the disease, but to the affected person. So, the engineering solution has to be per individual.”

Amols, on the other hand, studied physics and went on to earn his PhD at Brown. He eventually became the director of Clinical Radiation Therapy Physics at Columbia University-Presbyterian Medical Center, a position he held for 12 years. It was during his time at Columbia in 1980s that Sisti, who was pioneering computer-assisted surgery there, collaborated with Amols to create a method of non-invasive brain surgery. Together, they developed the first linear accelerator (a machine used to deliver high energy x-rays to radiate tumors) to be used in the tri-state area. Sisti says, “You can train these machines to understand the anatomy of the brain, and to outline pathology.” By December of 1989, the pair successfully treated their first patient, a first not just at Columbia but in the state of New York. As Sisti said in a 2010 interview, “We went from stone age to space age. We’ve treated well over 3,000 patients, and it all started with Howard and myself.”


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  • Founded by inventor, industrialist and philanthropist Peter Cooper in 1859, The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art offers education in art, architecture and engineering, as well as courses in the humanities and social sciences.

  • “My feelings, my desires, my hopes, embrace humanity throughout the world,” Peter Cooper proclaimed in a speech in 1853. He looked forward to a time when, “knowledge shall cover the earth as waters cover the great deep.”

  • From its beginnings, Cooper Union was a unique institution, dedicated to founder Peter Cooper's proposition that education is the key not only to personal prosperity but to civic virtue and harmony.

  • Peter Cooper wanted his graduates to acquire the technical mastery and entrepreneurial skills, enrich their intellects and spark their creativity, and develop a sense of social justice that would translate into action.