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Princess of Asturias Awards

06/01/2016

Hugh Herr, Princess of Asturias Award for Technical and Scientific Research

American mechanical engineer and biophysicist Hugh Herr has been bestowed with the 2016 Princess of Asturias Award for Technical and Scientific Research, as made public today in Oviedo by the Jury responsible for conferring said Award. 

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American mechanical engineer and biophysicist Hugh Herr has been bestowed with the 2016 Princess of Asturias Award for Technical and Scientific Research, as made public today in Oviedo by the Jury responsible for conferring said Award.

The Jury for the Award –convened by the Princess of Asturias Foundation– was chaired by Pedro Miguel Echenique Landiríbar and composed of Juan Luis Arsuaga Ferreras, Mara Dierssen Sotos, Marián del Egido Rodríguez, Luis Fernández-Vega Sanz, Cristina Garmendia Mendizábal, Álvaro Giménez Cañete, Bernardo Hernández González, José Antonio Martínez Álvarez, Clara Menéndez Santos, Amador Menéndez Velázquez, Ginés Morata Pérez, Enrique Moreno González, César Nombela Cano, Teresa Rodrigo Anoro, Inés Rodríguez Hidalgo, Marta Sanz-Solé, Manuel Toharia Cortés and Vicente Gotor Santamaría (as acting secretary).

This candidature was put forward by Robert Langer, 2008 Prince of Asturias Award for Technical and Scientific Research.

Hugh Herr (USA, 25th October 1964) graduated in Physics in 1990 from the University of Millersville (Pennsylvania). He subsequently earned a Master’s degree in Mechanical Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and a PhD in Biophysics at Harvard University in 1998. He currently heads the Biomechatronic Group at the MIT Media Lab, where he has developed what have been described as “the most sophisticated ankle prostheses in the world”. He was assistant professor at the Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology, Harvard Medical School.

World leader in the field of bionics and biomechanics, Hugh Herr had to have both legs amputated below the knees when 17 years old after suffering severe frostbite in his limbs during a climb in the mountains. As a result of this experience, he directed his efforts and talent to try to improve the mobility of people with disabilities. He has even designed special legs for himself that have allowed him to continue practising climbing. Herr has opened up new lines of research, resulting in a class of biohybrid, “smart” prostheses which are accelerating the merging of body and machine and amplifying endurance and strength. His methods embrace a whole range of scientific and technological disciplines, from biomechanical science and the control of biological movements to the design of biomedical devices. His achievements have had a significant impact on people with physical disabilities through adaptive knee prostheses for femoral amputees and ankle and foot orthopaedic prostheses for clubfoot and pathologies caused by cerebral palsy or multiple sclerosis. Herr has employed cross-bridge models of skeletal muscle to design and optimize a new class of human-powered mechanisms that amplify endurance for anaerobic activities. He has also built elastic shoes that increase aerobic endurance in walking and running. He is the founder of the BionX Medical Technologies company (formerly iWalk), responsible for marketing the BiOM® Ankle. This prosthesis for the lower limbs provides energy, emulating muscle function and imitating the movement of the ankle, as well as stability on variable terrain. Holder or co-holder of more than seventy patents, Herr has given numerous lectures at international conferences and forums. He is also associate editor of the Journal of NeuroEngineering and Rehabilitation and sits on the editorial board of other scientific publications.

His life story has been told in the book Second Ascent: The Story of Hugh Herr (1991) and in the film Ascent: The Story of Hugh Herr, made in 2002 by National Geographic. Among other distinctions, he has received the Sports Hall of Fame Award (1989), the Young American Award (1990), Science magazine’s Next Wave: Best of 2003 distinction, Best Invention of the Year by Time magazine (2004 and 2007), the Heinz Award in Technology, the Economy and Employment (2007), the Action Maverick Award (2008), the Spirit of Da Vinci Award (2008), the Smithsonian American Ingenuity Award (2014) and the Blouin Creative Leadership Award (USA, 2015). In 2011, Time magazine called him “Leader of the Bionic Age”.

As stated in the Statutes of the Foundation, the Princess of Asturias Awards are aimed at rewarding “the scientific, technical, cultural, social and humanitarian work carried out at an international level by individuals, institutions or groups of individuals or institutions”. In keeping with these principles, the Princess of Asturias Award for Technical and Scientific Research shall be conferred on those “whose research findings and/or inventions represent an outstanding contribution to the progress and welfare of humanity in the fields of Mathematics, Astronomy and Astrophysics, Physics, Chemistry, Life Sciences, Medical Sciences, Earth and Space Sciences and Technological Sciences, including those disciplines corresponding to each of these fields and their related techniques”.

This year a total of 34 candidatures from Canada, China, Colombia, Egypt, France, Germany, Hungary, India, Israel, Japan, Mexico, Portugal, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, the United States and Spain ran for the award.

This is the fourth of eight Princess of Asturias Awards to be bestowed this year, now in their thirty-sixth edition. The Princess of Asturias Award for the Arts went to Spanish actress and stage director Nuria Espert, the Princess of Asturias Award for Communication and Humanities was granted to American photojournalist James Nachtwey and the Princess of Asturias for Social Sciences went to British historian Winifred Mary Beard. The remaining awards will be announced in the coming weeks in the following order: Sports, Literature and International Cooperation, with the Award for Concord being announced in September.

Each of the Princess of Asturias Awards comprises a Joan Miró sculpture, representing and symbolizing the Awards, a cash prize of 50,000 euros, a diploma and an insignia. The awards will be presented in the autumn in Oviedo at a grand ceremony presided over by TM The King and Queen of Spain.

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