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September 22, 2017

VA Technology Researcher Receives Samuel J. Heyman Public Service Award

Dr. Rory A. Cooper  Dr. Rory A. Cooper (Photo by Braun Film and Video, Inc.)

The Partnership for Public Service has awarded Dr. Rory A. Cooper the Samuel J. Heyman Service to America, Science and Environment Medal—one of seven medals (Sammies) given to a select group of civil servants for exceptional public service.

Cooper, a VA research career scientist, is founder and director of the Human Engineering Research Laboratories (HERL)—a collaborative research effort between the VA Pittsburgh Health Care System and the University of Pittsburgh. Cooper's laboratory is considered one of the nation's premier assistive technology research centers, and has been responsible for numerous innovations that have improved the lives of disabled Veterans and others.

Cooper, who was injured in a biking accident while serving in the U.S. Army overseas, is a wheelchair user himself. An electrical and computer engineer by training, he said he was drawn to a research career by a desire to help Veterans and people with disabilities.

"When I first started studying engineering, I recognized there were many challenges facing me, my friends, and a host of other people," said Cooper. "I was and am driven to try and help make a positive difference in the world."

Cooper's lab is responsible for multiple innovations in wheelchair design and other assistive technologies that have literally changed the way hundreds of thousands of Veterans interact with their environment and approach daily living. The team has 25 patents in wheelchair design and technology to its credit. Examples of their cutting-edge innovations include the use of 3D printing to create medical device prototypes; a waterproof wheelchair that runs on compressed air; a robotic wheelchair called MEBot; and a wheelchair that sports a robotic arm that can grip objects for its user.

The seven Sammies recipients will be honored at an awards ceremony hosted by John Dickerson, chief Washington correspondent and moderator of CBS News' "Face the Nation," on Sept. 27, 2017. Guests will include Secretary of Veterans Affairs Dr. David J. Shulkin, Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin, and Deputy National Security Advisor Dina Powell, among others.

The ceremony will be live-streamed from Washington, D.C., beginning 6:30 p.m. EDT, and will be accessible from the Partnership for Public Service's Facebook page.

* Read about Dr. Cooper's personal journey from Army sergeant to VA career research scientist.

* Watch a video about HERL's Computer Assisted Rehabilitation ENvironment, a virtual reality system used to test out new prototypes.

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