Richards-Kortum wins prestigious Pierre Galletti Award

AIMBE’s highest honor goes to Rice University global-health pioneer

The American Institute for Medical and Biomedical Engineering (AIMBE) today presented its highest honor, the 2016 Pierre Galletti Award, to Rice University bioengineer Rebecca Richards-Kortum.

Rebecca Richards-Kortum

Rebecca Richards-Kortum (Photo by Jeff Fitlow/Rice University)

Richards-Kortum, Rice’s Malcolm Gillis University Professor, professor of bioengineering and professor of electrical and computer engineering, is the first woman to win the Galletti Award, which was presented today at AIMBE’s 25th annual meeting in Washington, D.C. Richards-Kortum received the award for her “global leadership and exceptional innovation in creating the discipline of global-health engineering and pioneering engineering solutions to save countless maternal, newborn and vulnerable lives in resource-limited settings.”

Richards-Kortum, directs both the Rice Institute of Biosciences and Bioengineering and the Rice 360° Institute for Global Health, an award-winning global-health engineering program that incorporates problem-solving and hands-on learning activities. She also serves as special adviser to the provost on health-related research and educational initiatives.

Since 2006, Rice 360º has partnered with Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital (QECH) in Blantyre, Malawi, to evaluate dozens of affordable health care technologies developed by Rice students at the Oshman Engineering Design Kitchen (OEDK), including several that are now widely used throughout Malawi. When their work at QECH earned Richards-Kortum and OEDK Director Maria Oden the 2013 Lemelson-MIT Award for Global Innovation, the pair chose to use their $100,000 prize as seed funding for a campaign to fund a new neonatal ward, which QECH opened in November.

In addition to providing patient care for thousands of newborns each year, the new QECH neonatal facility will serve as an innovation hub and test bed for the “Nursery of the Future,” a suite of student-created neonatal technologies that low-resource district hospitals can put into place for less than $5,000. The innovation hub, which was featured in UNICEF’s 2015 annual report, will offer students from Rice, the University of Malawi Polytechnic and the University of Malawi Medical School a place to evaluate life-saving technologies under the supervision of the hospital’s pediatric specialists.

Richards-Kortum’s laboratory in Rice’s BioScience Research Collaborative specializes in translating research in nanotechnology, molecular imaging and microfabrication to develop optical-imaging systems that are inexpensive, portable and capable of providing point-of-care diagnoses for diseases ranging from cancer to malaria. Her research has led to the development of 31 patents, and she is the author of the textbook Biomedical Engineering for Global Health published by Cambridge University Press (2010) as well as more than 300 refereed research papers and 11 book chapters. She also is the youngest Rice faculty member elected to the National Academy of Engineering.

Richards-Kortum also is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and a past member of the National Academies Committee on Conceptual Framework for New Science Education Standards and the National Advisory Council for Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering for the National Institutes of Health. She is a fellow of AIMBE, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Biomedical Engineering Society, the Optical Society of America (OSA) and the National Academy of Inventors. Her many honors include the National Science Foundation’s Presidential Young Investigator Award, OSA’s Michael S. Feld Biophotonics Award and the Association of Rice Alumni’s George R. Brown Award for Superior Teaching.

The late Pierre Galletti, the award’s namesake, was a pioneering researcher in the emerging field of biomedical engineering whose work impacted heart-lung bypass surgery, artificial organs and tissue engineering. He was a founding member of AIMBE and served as the institute’s second president.


About Jade Boyd

Jade Boyd is science editor and associate director of news and media relations in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.