Cooper sits next to an electric wheelchair
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Rory Cooper has been inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame

  • Technology & Science
  • Community Impact
  • School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences

From trading cards to awards for science and society, Rory Cooper is no stranger to accolades. Now Cooper, director of the Human Engineering Research Laboratories (HERL) at the University of Pittsburgh and a distinguished professor in Pitt’s School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, has been named to the 50th class of the National Inventors Hall of Fame for his inventions in mobility technology to aid wheelchair users.

The biomedical engineer founded HERL in 1994 to solve common problems faced by disabled veterans and other wheelchair users, both groups he counts himself in. The following decades saw a stream of innovations emerging from his research, including a hand-rim for wheelchairs that eased the stress of moving and stopping and a digital joystick to control electric-powered wheelchairs that compensates for hand tremors.

[From the archives: Rory Cooper recovers from a life-threatening crash to compete in the Pittsburgh Marathon]

A fellow of the National Academy of Inventors, American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering, and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, his honors include the Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medal. He is also Pitt’s first assistant vice chancellor for research for STEM-health sciences collaborations.

Cooper is one of 16 inductees in the 2023 class of the National Inventors Hall of Fame, which recognizes the enduring legacies of exceptional U.S. patent holders. He joins a group that includes Eli Whitney, Thomas Edison, Steve Jobs and Hedy Lamarr. Cooper will be honored along with other inductees at a celebration in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 26.


— Patrick Monahan, photography by Aimee Obidzinski