DIIA winners 2018

2018 winners Nalini Nadkarni (left) and Jeffrey Rosenbluth (right)


Nalini Nadkarni

Jeffrey Rosenbluth

Press Release

University of Utah honors faculty for innovation and impact

Professors Nalini Nadkarni and Jeffrey Rosenbluth recognized with 2018 Distinguished Innovation and Impact Award

The University of Utah announced the recipients of its eighth annual Distinguished Innovation and Impact Award. The award recognizes faculty who create products and initiatives with the potential to change the world and improve lives.

This year's award winners are Nalini Nadkarni, wildlife conversation activist and inventor of the Blue Room relaxation room for solitary confinement prisoners; and Jeffrey Rosenbluth, medical director of the Spinal Cord Injury Acute Rehabilitation program at the U and developer of an outdoor therapeutic program for spinal cord injury patients.

As one of the newest faculty awards at the University of Utah, the Distinguished Innovation and Impact Award recognizes faculty entrepreneurial activities resulting from innovations with measurable and significant societal impact. The award is managed by the University of Utah's Academic Affairs Office, with support from the Entrepreneurial Faculty Scholars program, a network of faculty dedicated to maintaining a thriving culture of impact at the university.

"We are delighted to celebrate Jeffrey Rosenbluth and Nalini Nadkarni for their dedication to improving the lives of others," said Kai Kuck, chair of the Entrepreneurial Faculty Scholars. "We honor Jeff for the strides he's made to help those living with spinal cort injuries lead an active and fulfilling life, and Nalini is recognized for her intense dedication to wildlife conservation, innovative take on science education and her breakthrough in using the simulation of outdoor nature to improve quality of life for solitary confinement inmates."

About the 2018 recipients:

Nalini Nadkarni

Professor, Department of Biology

"[Dr. Nalini Nadkarni] brings creativity, energy, compassion and intelligence, weaving together threads of seemingly distant and different worlds to create new ways of seeing, understanding and improving our world," said one nominator. In addition to her extensive career as a forest canopy ecologist and teacher, Nadkarni is a champion for science education and engagement. She has developed innovative ways to connect people with science and nature through means that best speak to them. She studied the holy scriptures of major world religions, finding references to the spiritual importance of trees, and developed sermons on "Trees and Spirituality," which she has delivered from the pulpits of churches of many religions. Nadkarni developed "Treetop Barbie" to teach young girls about the benefits of careers in science. Her Blue Room project, which allows inmates in solitary confinement to experience nature through videos and which reduced prison violence, was recognized by TIME magazine as one of "The 25 Best Inventions of 2014." Nadkarni has delivered TED talks about the deep connections between nature and humans of all kinds. Herself the daughter of immigrants, she devotes effort to encouraging young women and minorities in science. She serves on the Governing Board for the Ecological Society of America as the vice president for Education and Diversity.

Jeffrey Rosenbluth

Associate Professor (Clinical), Division of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation

Jeffrey Rosenbluth has promoted a vision of health, independence and an active lifestyle for individuals with spinal cord injury (SCI) in the Intermountain West since 2001. In 2003, he developed the University of Utah's TRAILS Program (technology, recreation, access, independence, lifestyle, sports) with a goal of maximizing quality of life after SCI through innovations in wellness, sports, recreation, education and advocacy. TRAILS provides 14,000 community program hours, and Rosenbluth believes strongly in incorporating University of Utah students from diverse backgrounds into all aspects of program development and support. One colleague noted, "Dr. Rosenbluth has dedicated his career toward improving the lives of individuals with SCI, bringing awareness of the impact of disability to students of design, engineering and computer science to influence product design and accessibility for improved quality of life." His work on TRAILS has attracted widespread support from leading funding organizations in the field, including the Craig H. Neilsen Foundation, the United States Olympic Committee, and the United States Veterans Administration. Over the last 13 years, Rosenbluth has obtained more than $3 million in support for innovative product and program development for individuals with complex disabilities. In 2013, Rosenbluth received the Craig H. Neilsen Presidential Endowed Chair of Spinal Cord Injury Medicine.


PHOTOS: Download photos to use with this news here (ZIP). Video files are available upon request.

MEDIA CONTACT: Kai Kuck, Chair Entrepreneurial Faculty Scholars, University of Utah, 801-581-6393, kai.kuck@hsc.utah.edu.