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Allen School’s Rajesh Rao receives Cherng Jia and Elizabeth Yun Hwang Endowed Professorship

Elizabeth Yun Hwang, Cherng Jia Hwang, and Rajesh Rao

Left to right: Elizabeth Yun Hwang, Cherng Jia Hwang, and Raj Rao

Allen School professor Rajesh Rao has been named the Cherng Jia and Elizabeth Yun Hwang Endowed Professor at the University of Washington. The new professorship was established by the Hwangs in the UW Department of Electrical Engineering in honor of their daughter, Karen, who suffered a severe spinal cord injury in an automobile accident. The couple’s generosity will support Rao’s groundbreaking research on implantable devices to enable people suffering from paralysis to move again.

Rao is an adjunct faculty member in electrical engineering and bioengineering and directs the Center for Sensorimotor Neural Engineering, where he and his colleagues are developing bi-directional brain-computer interfaces (BCIs) that can wirelessly transmit brain signals across regions of the nervous system damaged through traumatic injury or illness. In addition to bridging those lost connections to enable movement, the technology also shows promise for promoting brain plasticity and targeted rehabilitation of affected areas — essentially, enabling the nervous system to repair itself.

The potential impact of this work on patients’ quality of life is what drew the Hwangs, both of whom are UW alumni, to Rao’s research.

“The selection of Professor Rao is ideal,” Mr. Hwang said in an interview. “His work lays the groundwork for research on developing a device-based rehabilitation technology to improve the quality of life of people with spinal cord injury and brain damage…We are very pleased to have him installed as the first endowed professor.”

“I am truly honored to be named the inaugural CJ and Elizabeth Hwang Professor of CSE and EE,” Rao said. “I regard the Professorship as a recognition of the great collaborative effort of the students, faculty and staff at our center over the past 6 years that has made UW a premier destination for neural engineering in the world. We are extremely grateful to the Hwang family for their generosity in accelerating the center’s efforts to build devices that will improve the quality of life of people with spinal cord injury and other neurological conditions.”

Read more about the professorship in the EE announcement here, and learn more about Rao’s work on BCIs in a UW News release here.

Congratulations, Raj — and thanks to EE Chair Radha Poovendran and to CJ and Elizabeth Hwang for their support of high-impact research!