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Our Scientists

Rebecca Richards-Kortum, PhD
HHMI Professor / 2002–2010

Host Institution

Rice University

Current Position

Rebecca Richards-Kortum is the Stanley C. Moore Professor and Chair of the Bioengineering Department at Rice University. She is also director of Rice 360°: Institute for Global Health Technologies, and founder of Beyond Traditional Borders at Rice.

Current Research

Health-Care Technology Development and Assessment: Integrating Research and Undergraduate Education in Biomedical Engineering

Rebecca Richards-Kortum's research focuses on developing optical technologies for detecting cervical precancer in vivo. Her HHMI project involves expanding an internship program that immerses bioengineering majors in all aspects of biomedical research; broadly disseminating the curriculum of Bioengineering and World Health, a course for nonscience majors; and modifying this curriculum for use in high schools and middle schools.

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Biography

Rebecca Richards-Kortum is the Stanley C. Moore Professor of Bioengineering, chair of the Department of Bioengineering, director of Rice 360°: Institute for Global Health Technologies, and founder of the Beyond Traditional Borders initiative…

Rebecca Richards-Kortum is the Stanley C. Moore Professor of Bioengineering, chair of the Department of Bioengineering, director of Rice 360°: Institute for Global Health Technologies, and founder of the Beyond Traditional Borders initiative at Rice University. She joined Rice in 2005, and has served two terms as chair of the bioengineering program (2005-2008; 2012-present).

Richards-Kortum began her career in research and academia at the University of Texas at Austin, where she held the Cockrell Family Chair in Engineering #10 and was a Professor of Biomedical Engineering.

Guided by the belief that all people deserve access to health innovation, Richards-Kortum’s research and teaching focus on developing and commercializing low-cost, high-performance technologies. Her work is translatable; and through multidisciplinary collaboration, can be applied toward the development of life-saving health technologies for resource-poor settings and to decrease medical costs associated with technology adoption in the United States.

The optical imaging systems and tools developed in her laboratory are based on quantitative imaging methods and integrate advances in nanotechnology and molecular imaging with microfabrication technologies to provide rapid and robust point-of-care diagnosis. Over the course of her career, an array of optical-imaging devices and systems have been developed, tested, and applied to improve the early detection of cancers and global infectious diseases that cause high morbidity and mortality.

Richards-Kortum’s passion to develop effective global-health technologies and provide educational interventions that prevent disease inspired her to work with collaborators at Rice, the Texas Medical Center, and international clinicians and health-care professionals to establish the Rice 360°: Institute for Global Health Technologies. Founded in 2007, Rice 360° is a research and education institute that promotes the design and dissemination of appropriate health technologies with the goal of improving health and reducing poverty.

As an HHMI Professor, Richards-Kortum has placed a strong emphasis on the integration of research and education to expand the impact of biomedical engineering. She worked to establish the Rice University, University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center Med Into Grad (MIG) program and the Rice 360°: Institute for Global Health Technologies undergraduate education program Beyond Traditional Borders (BTB).

BTB, the undergraduate component of Rice 360°, is an award-winning interdisciplinary educational program that engages undergraduates in finding solutions to the world’s most pressing health problems. The program has been institutionalized as an undergraduate minor; and in 2012, was chosen as a model program by Science magazine and awarded the Science Prize for Inquiry-Based Instruction. A year later the hands-on engineering education program was awarded the $100,000 Lemelson-MIT Award for Global Innovation for bringing life-saving health solutions to the developing world. Donations from this award were dedicated toward the construction of a new neonatal ward at Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital (QECH) in Blantyre, Malawi.

In addition to providing excellent care for newborns, the QECH neonatal ward will serve as an innovation hub for the design, evaluation and implementation of Rice 360°’s Day One Project. Recently, QECH, Rice 360°, and the University of Malawi College of Medicine began distributing the student-designed bubble CPAP in teaching hospitals in three African nations.

Richards-Kortum has received a number of awards for her efforts in research and education. In 2008, she was elected to the National Academy of Engineering for her research on the diagnosis and treatment of cancer and for her leadership in bioengineering education and global health initiatives. She is also a member of the National Academies Committee on Conceptual Framework for New Science Education Standards (2010-2012), a senior member of the Optical Society of America (2012), and an inaugural member of the National Advisory Council for Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering for the National Institutes of Health (2002-2007). She is an elected fellow of the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering (2000), of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (2008), and of the Biomedical Engineering Society (2008). She was named a Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) Professor (2002) and received a Professor Renewal grant from HHMI (2006) to establish and expand the undergraduate education program Beyond Traditional Borders.

Richards-Kortum has a BS in Physics and Mathematics from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (1985), an MS in Physics (1987) and a PhD in Medical Physics (1990) from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

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Education

  • BS, physics and mathematics, University of Nebraska–Lincoln
  • MS, physics, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • PhD, Medical Physics, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Awards

  • Michael S. Feld Biophotonics Award, Optical Society of America
  • Lemelson-MIT Award for Global Innovation
  • Inquiry-Based Instruction Award, Science magazine
  • Women Leaders in Medicine Award, American Medical Student Association
  • Celebrating Women in Science Award, BioHouston, Inc.
  • Pritzker Distinguished Lectureship Award, Biomedical Engineering Society
  • Chester F. Carlson Award, American Society for Engineering Education
  • Sharon Keillor Award for Women in Engineering, American Society for Engineering Education
  • Piper Professor, Minnie Stevens Piper Foundation
  • Becton Dickinson Career Achievement Award, Association for the Advancement of Medical Instrumentation
  • Y.C. Fung Young Investigator Award, Bioengineering Division, American Society of Mechanical Engineer
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Memberships

  • National Academy of Engineering
  • National Academies Committee on Conceptual Framework for New Science Education Standards
  • Optical Society of America, Senior member
  • National Advisory Council for Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering for the National Institutes of Health, Inaugural member
  • American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering, Fellow
  • American Association for the Advancement of Science, Fellow
  • Biomedical Engineering Society, Fellow
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