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  • Joel Burdick is seen with a robotic device that he developed to train a paralyzed rat's rear legs to recover motor skill while stimulating the animal's nervous system with electrodes implanted along the spine, combined with drug therapy. This device was part of a study that earned Burdick a 2011 Breakthrough Innovator Award from Popular Mechanics.
    Credit: Lance Hayashida, Caltech
10/10/2011 07:00:00

Caltech Engineer Receives Popular Mechanics Award

Each year, Popular Mechanics magazine honors inventors, engineers, and researchers with Breakthrough Innovator Awards for their significant advances in medicine, technology, entertainment, and more. At a ceremony in New York City on October 10, Caltech engineer Joel Burdick was among the recipients of a Breakthrough Award for his work that helped a paralyzed man stand. The awards are in recognition of "innovators whose inventions will make the world smarter, safer, and more efficient in the years to come."

Burdick, a professor of mechanical engineering and bioengineering, was part of a team that made headlines earlier this year for implanting a stimulating electrode array near the spine of a paralyzed man to help him regain movement in his legs. The group—which also includes V. Reggie Edgerton and Yury Gerasimenko from UCLA, Susan Harkema from the University of Louisville, and patient Rob Summers—received a 2011 Breakthrough Innovator Award for their "bold experiment" that resulted in "unprecedented voluntary movement" in Summers' legs. The team was one of 11 groups or individuals to receive the award

As a robotics expert, Burdick developed robotically guided physical therapy equipment (seen in the image at right) used by animal models in early studies of the electrode array. He also introduced the concept of using high-density epidural spinal stimulation to treat patients with spinal cord injuries, and is currently building physical therapy equipment for human patients with the spinal implant.

"Our Breakthrough Award winners not only capture the imagination, but hold the potential to improve and save lives," said James B. Meigs, editor-in-chief of Popular Mechanics, in a press release. The winners are selected by the editors of Popular Mechanics after soliciting recommendations from a wide range of experts and past Breakthrough Award winners in fields ranging from aerospace and robotics to medicine and energy.

To read more about the awards, go to the Popular Mechanics website. Full descriptions of the winners are also available in the November issue of Popular Mechanics, on newsstands today.  

Written by Katie Neith