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Researchers by day, rockers by night, biofunkiest engineers hit the airwaves

by May. 31, 2019, 2:02 PM

When some of Vanderbilt University’s biomedical engineers aren’t improving lives, they’re dropping beats.

The Vanderbilt Initiative of Biofunky Engineers (VIBE) – a wink at the university’s love for both initiatives and acronyms – began performing together in 2017 and have played a handful of gigs, including the biomedical engineering department’s holiday party.

On Tuesday afternoon, they entertained potentially their biggest audience yet, although they couldn’t see them. Six members of VIBE crammed into the tiny Radio Free Nashville studios for the Reminisce Radio show to perform 10 songs and answer questions from host Drew Laney in between. The low-power, community station is located in a house about 15 miles southwest of campus.

“I finally realized there were a bunch of musicians in the biomedical engineering department, and they’re really good,” said band founder Mike King, J. Lawrence Wilson Professor of Engineering and the department’s chair. “One put himself through medical school playing jazz piano. Another has performed onstage with pop stars. I found another when he was walking by, carrying a mandolin case to perform for patients at the children’s hospital.”

Bruce Damon, professor of radiology and biomedical engineering, was that generous mandolin player. He said King’s pitch to get a band together sounded fun, and soon he found himself at practice sessions in the basement of bass player Duco Jansen, the School of Engineering’s senior associate dean for graduate education and faculty affairs and a biomedical engineering professor.

“The key is good insulation so nobody upstairs can hear,” Jansen quipped.

Jokes aside, by the time the group hit the airwaves, they were performance-ready, checking off a set list that included “The Way It Is,” “Hungry Heart” and “Into the Mystic,” plus an original composition by Sara Davis called “Living in Tomorrow.” King said Davis, a recent Franklin High School graduate, met band members and was inspired to write the song about how biomedical engineering can better the world.

Rounding out the band are:

  • Joe Schlesinger, an anesthesiologist with a dual appointment in biomedical engineering, on piano
  • Zack Zimmers, a biomedical engineering graduate student, on drums
  • Mike Baird, a nurse at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs hospital adjacent to Vanderbilt, on saxophone.

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