NSB News Release

Vannevar Bush Award Given to Roderic Pettigrew, Innovator in Biomedicine and Technology

Vannevar Bush Awardee, Roderic Pettigrew

Vannevar Bush Awardee, Roderic Pettigrew (Credit and Larger Version)

September 28, 2020

Today, the National Science Board (NSB) announced that Roderic Pettigrew will receive its prestigious Vannevar Bush Award. The award honors science and technology leaders who have made substantial contributions to the welfare of the nation through public service in science, technology and public policy.

“Roderic Pettigrew’s passion and creativity have spurred innovation in biomedicine,” said Victor McCrary, Vice Chair of the National Science Board and Chair of the 2020 NSB Honorary Awards Subcommittee. “His reimagining of healthcare solutions is helping converge science fields, narrowing gaps between disciplines in a way that really impacts society. Pettigrew is helping us to see what might be, what could be, and what is possible.”  

Throughout his career, Pettigrew has worked to break down the boundaries between those working in the physical sciences and engineering and those working in medicine.

“It is an incredible honor to receive the Vannever Bush Award, which is so steeped in science history,” Pettigrew said. “My only regret is that my parents are not alive to share this honor. They were my first role models.”

Pettigrew’s public service as the founding director of the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering (NIBIB) at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) helped to transform the relationship between technology and medical research, integrating physics and engineering with life sciences to advance fundamental research and medical care. His science and technology leadership has, for example, advanced treatment for spinal injuries and enabled some chronically paralyzed men to regain voluntary muscle movement and sensory function. His other projects have reimagined the use of radiation in cancer treatments, pioneered the use of MRI to image the beating heart and quantify blood flow, championed point-of-care diagnostics and modeled the mechanobiology of conditions that are predictive of heart attacks.

Pettigrew optimized the institutional side of biomedical imaging research, bringing together representatives from 12 federal agencies to collaborate in ways that focus and improve impact.  He proposed and established a partnership with the government of India to develop cuff-less blood pressure measurement and other low-cost diagnostic and therapeutic technologies. While at NIH he also conceived and established the Quantum Grants Program, encouraging researchers to undertake “medical moon shots” – projects with a highly-focused, collaborative, interdisciplinary, milestone-driven approaches that aim to solve major medical or public health challenges through technological innovation. Under Pettigrew’s leadership, NIBIB was responsible for the generation of science and technology patents that garnered an estimated return on investment of 3000%.

Since leaving NIH and NIBIB, Pettigrew has helped found EnMed, a unique integrated engineering and medical school initiative of Texas A&M University in collaboration with Houston Methodist Hospital, located in Houston’s Texas Medical Center. The program blends engineering and medicine in a 4-year curriculum to develop problem-solving “physicianeers.”  Graduates, who earn an MD and MEng simultaneously, are required to invent a solution to a healthcare problem.

Pettigrew was raised in rural Georgia and attended segregated public schools before attending Morehouse College in Atlanta through a Merrill Scholarship. After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in physics in 1972 he earned a masters’ degree in nuclear science and engineering at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and a Ph.D. in Applied Radiation Physics at Massachusetts Institute. In 1979 he received an M.D. from the University of Miami through a newly developed accelerated program that only admitted students who had already completed a Ph.D. in a science field. He completed medical residencies at Emory University and the University of California, San Diego.  

In recent years he has been elected to the National Academy of Medicine, the National Academy of Engineering, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the National Academy of Sciences India. He has received the Pierre Galletti Award from the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering, the Distinguished Service Award of both the International Society of Magnetic Resonance in Medicine and National Medical Association, the Pritzker Achievement Award of the Biomedical Engineering Society, and was the first winner of the Gold Medal of the Academy of Radiology Research. He also was awarded a Gold Medal from the Radiological Society of North America and received the Arthur M. Bueche Award from the National Academy of Engineering

The NSB created the award in 1980 in memory of Vannevar Bush, who served as a science advisor to President Franklin Roosevelt during World War II, helped to establish federal funding for science and engineering as a national priority during peacetime, and was behind the creation of the National Science Foundation. Past award recipients include: Leon Lederman (Fermilab), Harold Varmus (NIH), Nobel Laureate Charles Townes (University of California-Berkeley), David Packard (Hewlett-Packard Company), Rita Colwell (NSF), Charles Vest (MIT), and last year, Walter Massey (University of Chicago).


About the National Science Board
The National Science Board and the National Science Foundation's Director jointly head NSF. NSB identifies issues critical to NSF's future and establishes the agency’s policies. The NSB also provides the President and Congress with Science and Engineering Indicators, a biennial report on the state of science and engineering in the United States. Members  are appointed by the President for six-year terms and selected for their eminence in research, education and records of distinguished service.


Media Contacts:
Alison Gillespie, National Science Board, (703) 292-2557, algilles@nsf.gov

Laylan Copelin, Texas A&M University, (512) 289-2782, lcopelin@tamus.edu

The U.S. National Science Foundation propels the nation forward by advancing fundamental research in all fields of science and engineering. NSF supports research and people by providing facilities, instruments and funding to support their ingenuity and sustain the U.S. as a global leader in research and innovation. With a fiscal year 2023 budget of $9.5 billion, NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 colleges, universities and institutions. Each year, NSF receives more than 40,000 competitive proposals and makes about 11,000 new awards. Those awards include support for cooperative research with industry, Arctic and Antarctic research and operations, and U.S. participation in international scientific efforts.

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