Richard Skalak made innovative contributions to the fields of bioengineering and biomechanics.
Skalak was born in New York City in 1923 and graduated from Stuyvesant High School. He attended college and graduate school at Columbia University, earning a doctorate in civil engineering in 1954.
Skalak taught at Columbia for more than forty years. His early research focused on traditional problems of mechanical engineering, such as fluid dynamics and oil exploration and extraction techniques.
In the 1960s, he applied his engineering instincts to biological questions. He worked on issues of pulmonary wave propagation with Al Fishman, Eugene Morkin, and Fred Wiener at Columbia Medical School’s Pulmonary Division. In 1967, he collaborated with the University of Goteborg’s P.I. Branemark on a breakthrough study of the movement of red blood cells through human tissue. He and Branemark later research the biomedical processes behind titanium dental implants, helping to determine how titanium and human bone bonded. This research influenced the development of implant technology and new ways to reconstruct bones.
In 1968, he worked with Columbia University scientist Shu Chien researching the material properties of red blood cells and cell membranes, the process of bone growth, and the response of white blood cells to infections. The more than two hundred papers he published with Chien or independently helped apply these findings to the treatment of many diseases. He also co-edited “The Handbook of Bioengineering” in 1989 with Chien.
He retired from Columbia in 1988 and was teaching engineering at the University of California at San Diego when he died in 1997.