December 20, 2019
Yuan-Cheng “Bert” Fung, regarded as “the father of biomechanics” and one of the founders of the discipline of bioengineering at UC San Diego, passed away on December 15 of natural causes. He was 100.
Fung’s visionary research reshaped humankind’s understanding of the human body and established UC San Diego as the country’s leader in bioengineering. The department is ranked first in the nation by the National Research Council at the National Academies.
Fung moved to California from China in 1946, immediately after the end of WWII, to pursue a graduate degree in aeronautics at Caltech. He very quickly became an expert in the field of aeroelasticity—the study of the interaction of aerodynamic forces with structures that aren’t rigid. He wrote the leading textbook on the subject and led a renowned research group at Caltech.
In 1958, his mother developed acute glaucoma back home in China. Fung immersed himself in all the research available on the condition at the time. He translated the latest journal articles and sent them to his mother’s physicians. Through his research, it became evident to him that not much was known about the mechanical forces and physical phenomena to which living tissues are subjected. This was his first step toward focusing on bioengineering.
Fung joined UC San Diego in 1966 and was one of the founders of our bioengineering program, along with fellow researchers Benjamin W. Zweifach and Marcos Intaglietta. At UC San Diego, he was able to formulate the exponential law that describes how soft tissue deforms under stress. That law was later central to car safety design. Today, all safety crash tests for motor vehicles rely on his fundamental studies of tissue mechanics. The same law helped researchers develop artificial skin grafts that mimic the skin’s properties and are used to help burn victims heal.
He studied the mechanics of blood flow through microcirculation, which is the circulation of blood in the smallest blood vessels. He developed the “sheet-flow” theory which provides a quantitative description of pulmonary circulation, hypertension, edema, and respiratory distress syndrome in the lung.
Fung was the first to realize that physics and mechanics apply to living tissues just as they do to manmade structures and the first to coin the term “tissue engineering.” For nearly half a century, Fung, his colleagues and his students went on to study and analyze the mechanics at work in virtually all living tissue, including blood vessels, skin, muscle, cartilage, heart, and lung.
Many discoveries and life-saving therapies have been developed on the foundations of his work. Because of his tremendous influence on the fields of biology and engineering, Fung is recognized as one of the most interdisciplinary scientists of our time. Fung received a National Medal of Science in 2000, the first bioengineer to earn the distinction. He also was the fourth individual in history elected to all three branches of the National Academies—Science, Engineering and Medicine.
“After many years in the field, I really think that an interdisciplinary area is not just the one area plus another,” Fung said in an extensive oral history he recorded for IEEE in 2000. “It’s the new product in between, which is neither of the mother fields. The interesting part is the new in-between part.”
Bert’s interdisciplinary spirit and legacy of groundbreaking work will be remembered and celebrated at UC San Diego.
Fung is preceded in death by his wife Luna, who passed away in 2017. He is survived by his son Conrad A. Fung of Brookfield, Wis., and his daughter Brenda Fung Manos of Belmont, Mass., and three grandsons, Nicholas Manos of Long Beach, Calif. (Claire Bazley), and Anthony Fung and Michael Fung of Brookfield, Wis.
Read Bert’s full obituary online at
In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made to the UC San Diego Bioengineering Excellence and Innovation Fund (fund F-3090) or to the Red Cross.
To give an online gift in memory of Dr. Fung, visit https://giveto.ucsd.edu/giving/home/add-gift and search for “Bioengineering Excellence and Innovation Fund.” Checks can also be mailed to the UC San Diego Foundation, with “Bioengineering Excellence and Innovation Fund (fund F-3090)” in the memo, to 9500 Gilman Dr. #0940 La Jolla CA 92093-0940.