Former University of Delaware dean will discuss the ‘future of engineering in medicine’ to inaugurate Costel Denson Distinguished Lecture Series

The Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering welcomes Babatunde A. Ogunnaike, a member of the U.S. National Academy of Engineering and the William L. Friend Chair of Chemical Engineering at the University of Delaware, as the inaugural speaker for the launch of its Costel Denson Distinguished Lecture Series.

The series is named in honor of chemical engineering alumnus Costel “Cos” Denson ’56 ’15H, the first African American graduate of Lehigh and a widely respected expert in polymer engineering and fluid mechanics. Denson was an engineering pioneer, a scholar, a leader, and a mentor of the highest distinction, and the series recognizes his impact in research and education and his legacy in breaking down barriers to the academic and industrial pursuit of science and engineering.

Ogunnaike has led a similarly distinguished career: He is a former dean of the University of Delaware’s College of Engineering as well as a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the National Academy of Inventors, and the Nigerian Academy of Engineering.

His research interests include understanding the dynamic behavior of complex systems through mathematical modeling and analysis, and exploiting this understanding for novel designs and improved operations.

Ogunnaike will present “Biological Control Systems, the Future of Engineering in Medicine,” March 20 in the Governor’s Suite of Iacocca Hall. The lecture begins at 2:30 pm, with a reception following at 3:30 pm.

In this presentation, Ogunnaike will provide an overview of how physiological life is made possible by control; demonstrate the usefulness of a control engineering perspective of pathologies for diagnosis, design, and implementation of effective treatments, especially for precision (personalized) medicine; and make the case for the central role engineering will play in enabling medicine of the future.

He will illustrate concepts and principles using a specific clinical example involving platelet count control for an immune thrombocytopenic purpura (ITP) patient.


‘A shining example’

Mayuresh Kothare, the R. L. McCann Professor and Chair of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at Lehigh, announced the initiation of this distinguished lecture series last year following Denson’s death at age 83.

Denson's life story is “a shining example of how one can rise up in the face of adversity,” Kothare says. “His ability to positively use the opportunities provided by Lehigh and excel in academics, sports, and leadership epitomizes the best virtues of the human spirit.”

As Lehigh’s first African American graduate, Denson overcame a challenging social environment to excel as both a scholar and athlete. He cultivated a successful career at General Electric before earning a master’s degree from RPI and a PhD from the University of Utah, both in chemical engineering.

Denson joined the faculty at the University of Delaware in 1977, where he steadily rose through the ranks, continuing to accomplish more “firsts” in roles such as interim dean of engineering, vice provost for research as well as for academic affairs, and university provost.

Denson participated on numerous environmental advisory boards, was a panel member for the National Science Foundation, held two patents, and launched two companies based on technology he developed.

His many accolades include an honorary doctoral degree in 2015 from Lehigh. In 2017, the university created the Dr. Costel Denson ’56 Alumni Award, which is given annually to a Lehigh alumnus who has demonstrated leadership by identifying and implementing ways to increase diversity in the American workplace and educational institutions.

Costel Denson Distinguished Lecture Series


Babatunde A. Ogunnaike

Babatunde A. Ogunnaike, William L. Friend Chair of Chemical Engineering, University of Delaware

Costel “Cos” Denson

Costel “Cos” Denson ’56 ’15H, the first African American graduate of Lehigh, was a chemical engineering alumnus. Photo: Christa Neu