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New NAE members developed low-cost surgical device and transformational approach to design


The National Academy of Engineering will induct Shorya Awtar and Panos Papalambros, Michigan Engineering professors

Michigan Engineering – A pair of University of Michigan professors, one a developer of surgical technology, the other a leader in design optimization, were elected as members of the National Academy of Engineering—one of the highest distinctions in the profession.

Both are professors of mechanical engineering and they join this year’s NAE class of 106 new members and 18 international members.

Shorya Awtar is a professor of mechanical engineering and the CEO of Parallel Robotics. He was recognized this week for “inventing and commercializing game-changing surgical products that have made minimally invasive surgery affordable and accessible around the world,” according to the NAE.

Panos Papalambros is the James B. Angell Distinguished University Professor Emeritus of Engineering, the Donald C. Graham Professor Emeritus of Engineering and a professor emeritus of integrative systems and design at the College of Engineering. The NAE’s recognition is based on his “contributions to complex systems optimization and leadership in advancing transformative engineering design research and education.”

He retired from U-M in 2022.

Their election brings U-M’s total NAE membership to 34.

“Election to the NAE is among the highest honors accorded in our profession,” said Alec D. Gallimore, the Robert J. Vlasic Dean of Engineering, the Richard F. and Eleanor A. Towner Professor, an Arthur F. Thurnau Professor and a professor of aerospace engineering.

“This is a well-deserved recognition of Professor Awtar and Professor Papalambros’ positive impact on society through their respective research, their contributions to engineering education and their commitments to shape the world for the better.”

Shorya Awtar holds the FlexDex surgical device he invented. He was elected into the NAE for “inventing and commercializing game-changing surgical products that have made minimally invasive surgery affordable and accessible around the world.” Image credit: Shorya Awtar

Awtar helped found FlexDex Surgical to develop mechanical instruments that aid surgeons during complex laparoscopic procedures. These devices allow surgeons to access organs in the abdomen in a way that is less invasive, resulting in reduced pain and shortened recuperation periods afterward. And because they don’t involve complex electronics, this design enables surgeries without access to multimillion dollar robotic surgery systems.

His Precision Systems Design Laboratory has produced numerous innovations for a variety of industries, from healthcare to semiconductor manufacturing to automotive. Recent research reflects that scope with technologies addressing motion sickness in autonomous vehicles as well as upper limb prostheses.

“Michigan has provided me with the ideal ecosystem for creating new innovations within the university, and then translating and commercializing them via startups to make societal impact,” Awtar said.

Awtar is currently on leave launching his new company, Parallel Robotics.

Panos Papalambros is recognized by the National Academy of Engineering for contributions to complex systems optimization and leadership in advancing transformative engineering design research and education. Image credit: Joseph Xu, Michigan Engineering

In 2006, Papalambros helped launch the nation’s first Design Science doctoral program at U-M and served as its director. The interdisciplinary program focused on how good design benefits society and can head off unintended consequences, ideas that today are a central part of Michigan Engineering’s people-first framework.

Long before then, Papalambros helped establish the Optimal DEsign Laboratory at U-M in 1979. From the start, the group’s mission was “to study design as a process conducted by humans aiming at improving the human condition, and to employ a pragmatic approach as best we know how.”

J. Gary Smyth

Longtime member of the U-M Mechanical Engineering’s External Advisory Board (EAB), J. Gary Smyth, is also a member of this year’s NAE class. On the EAB, Gary has employed his significant experience and industry expertise to advise department leadership on topics ranging from curriculum focuses to team-building strategies. He is the Executive Director (retired) for Global Research and Development at General Motors and is being elected to the NAE “for leadership and technology innovation in automotive energy efficiency, environmental sustainability, vehicle electrification, and autonomous driving.”

The formal induction for Awtar, Papalambros, Smyth, and the rest of the new NAE inductees will be held Oct. 1, 2023, at the organization’s annual meeting.

Awtar and the University of Michigan have a financial interest in FlexDex Surgical and Awtar has a financial interest in Parallel Robotics.

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