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How Drexel Shares a 'Family' Connection With a Revolutionary Inventor

November 25, 2013

Wallace Coulter medallion
The Wallace Coulter medallion presented to Drexel last week.

Wallace Coulter never married, and he had no children. But that doesn’t mean the revolutionary medical-device inventor has no family now, some 15 years after his death.

In fact, according to Mara Neal, those sitting in the audience as she spoke at Drexel on Nov. 21 could consider themselves his heirs.

“You, Drexel, join us as a branch of Wallace’s family tree,” said Neal, director of research awards for the Wallace H. Coulter Foundation.

Coulter may not be a household name: Even Banu Onaral, director of Drexel’s School of Biomedical Engineering, Science and Health Systems, said Thursday that she knew nothing about the man for many years. But his impact on the biomedical world is immense, and not just because of his 85 patents or the Coulter Counter or Coulter Principle, which have been building blocks of laboratory hematology for more than 50 years.

Before his death in 1998, he also established the Coulter Foundation, one of the nation’s most influential funders of biomedical research and health care technology development. And Drexel became a big part of that effort in 2006, when it was one of the first 10 universities selected to be part of the Foundation’s Translational Research Partnership Program. Since then, Drexel has received more than $15 million in funding from the program, which aims to bring research from the University’s labs to patients.

That connection is why Drexel held a celebration of the centennial of Coulter’s birth on Thursday, as part of this year’s Global Innovation Partnership Forum organized by the School of Biomedical Engineering, Science and Health Systems and the Office of International Programs. President John Fry and Mara Neal on behalf of the Coulter Foundation reflected on how Coulter’s legacy of innovation has been carried on at Drexel.

“Wallace Coulter would have been 100 years old this year,” Fry said. “Though he didn’t reach that milestone in body, his vision and his spirit continue to inspire amazing achievements, certainly here at our university. Mr. Coulter imagined and then built this framework for innovation that now we wholly embrace.”

Innovation, Fry said, is at the heart of his mission for Drexel and Philadelphia, as made clear by the vision for an “Innovation Neighborhood” that would solidify the University and the city as leaders in innovation and entrepreneurship. Fry cited the Close School of Entrepreneurship and the technology commercialization resource Drexel Ventures as examples of that drive.

“We think Drexel is building the critical mass to help Philadelphia become a first-rate innovation center, along with our colleagues,” Fry said, citing the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, the University of Pennsylvania, the Wistar Institute and the University City Science Center as partners.

Before presenting the University with a large plaque featuring an oversized version of the Foundation’s Coulter medallion, Neal congratulated Drexel on that vision.

“I think President Fry just threw the gauntlet down,” Neal said.

Also at the Coulter celebration, the Coulter-Drexel Translational Partnership Program announced an essay competition, focusing on the legacy of Wallace Coulter, open to all Drexel students.