The UT Austin Department of Biomedical Engineering held its second-ever Academy of Distinguished Biomedical Engineers in early May. The historic occasion recognized Cockrell Engineers who made a considerable contribution to the field of biomedical engineering and UT Austin Engineering as a whole.

The event at the UT Club was a packed house with alumni, faculty, staff and family members of the two honorees inducted into the academy.

Rebecca Richards-Kortum, Ph.D.

Guided by the belief that all of the world’s people deserve access to health innovation, Rebecca Richards-Kortum is known for providing vulnerable populations with access to life-saving healthcare technologies that address diseases and conditions that cause high mortality. She received her Ph.D. in Medical Physics from MIT and began her academic career at UT in the Electrical and Computer Engineering department, where she rose through the ranks from assistant, to associate, to full professor. She is one of five eminent U.S. scientists and engineers selected in 2018 to serve the U.S. Department of State as a U.S. Science Envoy for Health Security. She is also the first Houston scientist and the first Houston woman to win a coveted "genius grant" from the MacArthur Foundation. Additionally, she co-founded Beyond Traditional Borders, which is a curriculum for undergraduates to turn classroom content into solutions for global health. The Academy selected Richards-Kortum for her dedication to develop low-cost and highly effective tools that improve healthcare access in areas that need it most. 

It was such an honor to be recognized by the Academy. I started my faculty career at UT; I’m so grateful for all the support I received from UT, and I’m proud to have played a small part in helping to start the BME department. It is especially exciting to see how the department continues to grow and flourish – it’s a really special place.

Gracie Vargas, Ph.D.

A Longhorn at heart, Gracie Vargas received her Ph.D. from UT in Bioengineering and Biomedical Engineering and then leaped into the prestigious University of Texas Medical Branch as an assistant professor. Two decades later, she is now a full professor and Vice Chair of the Department of Neuroscience Cell Biology and Anatomy at UTMB. As an elected fellow of the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering, Vargas is an internationally recognized expert in biomedical optics. She leads the Advanced Bio-Optics Imaging Lab at UTMB, where she merges engineering and medicine to advance imaging sciences. Her groundbreaking work spans various fields, from developing innovative imaging methods for cancer diagnosis to exploring women's health and neuroinflammation. The Academy selected Vargas for her dedication to mentoring the next generation of scientists. Throughout her tenure at UTMB, she has trained over 60 mentees encompassing high school to graduate and postgraduate levels, with trainees receiving awards and advancing successfully into such positions as faculty appointments and postdoctoral fellowships.

This recognition is particularly special to me because of what UT Biomedical Engineering has meant to my development and because the Academy recognizes that what we as biomedical engineers go out and do with our science and with teaching and mentorship are important.  This department has cultivated so many of the top biomedical engineers making substantial contributions to human health and trainee development. To be selected into this year’s class is the highest honor.

As one of the top Biomedical Engineering Graduate Programs nationwide, there were plenty of outstanding scientists to choose from. Faculty recommendations along with votes by the selection committee selected the second class of Academy inductees.

PHOTO GALLERY: 2024 Academy of Distinguished Biomedical Engineers