Rory A. Cooper

Dr. Rory Cooper_Pitt_Smile

Rory A. Cooper, Ph.D., is the recipient of the 2021 Sigma Xi John P. McGovern Science and Society Award. The McGovern Award has recognized achievements by a scientist or engineer that transcend their career as a researcher. Recipients of this award represent a broad spectrum of individuals whose varied activities supported research, the communication of science, and the impact of science on society. Cooper is being recognized for changing the lives of people with disabilities through the founding of Rehabilitation Engineering and bringing newly separated veterans into the world of STEM academia seamlessly.

The award consists of a medal and a $5,000 honorarium. Presentation of the award will take place at the Sigma Xi Annual Meeting and Student Research Conference, taking place virtually, November 4–7. At the meeting, Cooper will present "Participatory Action Design and Engineering: Forging a New Freedom!" The talk will suggest some pathways to expand the talent pool of scientists and engineers, as well as provide a glimpse into the work that he and his colleagues are doing to create technologies and systems for older adults and people with disabilities.

Cooper earned bachelor's and master's degrees in electrical engineering from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo in 1985 and 1986, respectively. He earned a Ph.D. in electrical & computer engineering with a concentration in bioengineering from University of California at Santa Barbara in 1989. He is FISA & Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA) Professor and Distinguished Professor of the Department of Rehabilitation Science & Technology, and professor of Bioengineering, Physical Med & Rehab, and Orthopedic Surgery at the University of Pittsburgh (Pitt).

Cooper is Founding Director and VA Senior Research Career Scientist of the Human Engineering Research Laboratories, a VA Rehabilitation R&D Center of Excellence in partnership with Pitt. He is an adjunct professor in the Robotics Institute of Carnegie Mellon University, and PM&R of the Uniformed Services University of Health Sciences. He was awarded Honorary Professor at Hong Kong Polytechnic University and Xi’an Jiatong University, where he was awarded an Honorary Doctorate. 

He has over 20 patents awarded or pending and has authored or co-authored over 350 peer-reviewed journal publications. He is also the author of two books: "Rehabilitation Engineering Applied to Mobility and Manipulation” and “Wheelchair Selection and Configuration."

In 1988, he was a bronze medalist in the Paralympic Games, Seoul Republic of Korea. He was on the steering committee for the 1996 Paralympic Scientific Congress held in Atlanta, GA and the Sports Scientist for the 2008 U.S. Paralympic Team in Beijing, China. In 2013, Cooper was awarded the International Paralympic Scientific Achievement Award

In 2015, TIME magazine produced a video on Cooper’s work for their on-line magazine. In 2019, Cooper was revealed as the 28th inventor in the US Patent and Trademark OfficeInventor Collectible Card Series”, which includes such luminaries as Thomas Edison, Steve Wozniak, and George Washington Carver. In addition to his numerous awards and career accolades, Cooper’s students have been the recipients of over 50 national and international awards. He is a member of the inaugural class of the Spinal Cord Injury Hall of Fame. In 2014, in appreciation of his work and accomplishments, the Pittsburgh City Council proclaimed June 17 as "Dr. Rory A. Cooper Day."