By Cristina D’Imperio
Last month, Rory Cooper, PhD (pictured left), featured in a film. Over the summer, he received the Distinguished Eagle Scout Award, a prestigious award also granted to Neil Armstrong and Steven Spielberg. Now, he has been inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame, and President Biden has presented him with the National Medal of Technology and Innovation.
The National Medal of Technology and Innovation is the U.S.’s highest award for technological achievement. Previous laureates include Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak, and the eBay corporation. The National Inventors Hall of Fame, since its inception 50 years ago, honors “the greatest inventors who have built the world around us, inspire the innovators of tomorrow, and challenge today’s creative thinkers to design the future.”
Dr. Cooper, a biomedical engineer, has dedicated his career to developing technologies that have not only improved manual and electric wheelchairs but have “advanced the health, mobility, and social inclusion of people with disabilities and older adults.”
His inventions include a manual wheelchair that features a larger outer surface area that more comfortably enables users to push with their palms than conventional wheelchair handrims. Users ultimately experience less hand and wrist pain and fewer wrist and shoulder injuries. Another of Dr. Cooper’s major innovations is a digital joystick for electric wheelchairs. It grants users greater mobility via pressure sensing that can be tailored to individual hand and arm function. The joystick’s software can also compensate for hand tremors that might otherwise lead to crashes or injury.
Dr. Cooper, McGowan affiliated faculty, holds more than 20 U.S. patents and is Founding Director and VA Senior Research Career Scientist of the Human Engineering Research Laboratories (HERL), the University of Pittsburgh’s first Assistant Vice Chancellor for Research for STEM-health Sciences Collaborations, a Distinguished Professor, a U.S. Army Veteran, and a Paralympic bronze medalist.
“In thinking about Rory in all of his accomplishments, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more effective advocate for people with disabilities,” said McGowan affiliated faculty and University of Pittsburgh’s School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences Dean Anthony Delitto. “Nothing speaks more loudly about the effectiveness of his advocacy than the inventions and patents that are celebrated with this award, all of which are designed to reduce or eliminate barriers for people with disabilities.”
Dr. Cooper received the National Medal of Technology and Innovation at the White House on October 24 and was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in Washington, D.C., on October 26.
Watch the National Medal of Technology and Innovation ceremony on C-Span here.
Read Dr. Cooper’s bio on the National Inventors Hall of Fame website here.
Watch Dr. Cooper on NBC News Today here.
Image credit: Ryan K. Morris and the National Science and Technology Medals Foundation