Engineering professor named director of the Penn State Center for Biodevices

Mary Frecker will lead the newly approved center as the Riess Chair, facilitate collaborations to improve human health


By Erin Cassidy Hendrick and Ashley WennersHerron

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Mary Frecker, professor of mechanical and biomedical engineering at Penn State, has been named the Riess Chair in the College of Engineering.

The position was funded by Leighton Riess, a 1944 chemical engineering graduate, to recruit and support a senior faculty member in the biological or biomedical areas of engineering.

In tandem with earning the Riess Chair, Frecker will lead the newly approved Center for Biodevices, a collaborative unit aimed at initiating and supporting research in the area and facilitating impactful collaborations among the College of Engineering, the College of Medicine, Eberly College of Science, College of Agricultural Sciences and the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences.

“This is an opportunity to make an impact well beyond my own research program,” Frecker said. “There is tremendous potential for projects, collaborations and proposals across the University. This center will help facilitate those by serving as a hub for researchers interested in biodevices and elevating the work in areas where Penn State is uniquely positioned to make an impact.”

In the Center for Biodevices, Frecker plans to expedite research discoveries that could improve human and animal health, such as implantable, surgical and wearable devices. These kinds of devices are already under development, including a flexible surgical probe that can help treat pancreatic cancer developed by Brad Hanks, a graduate student in Frecker’s research group.

“The objectives of the new center are to advance research related to biodevices, educate the next generation and spread the word about biodevices and the exciting research and educational opportunities at Penn State,” Frecker said.

The center’s work is already underway, thanks to seed efforts started in 2019. A Law, Policy, and Engineering symposium focused on biodevices brought together faculty, industry and government experts to collaborate on the legal, societal and technical implications of developing the next generation of biodevices. Faculty members also gathered to discuss possible areas of collaboration during formalized workshops.

“On the medical side, there are lots of needs and problems that aren’t adequately addressed with current technology,” she said. “In science and engineering, we’re developing all this fundamental research but there is a big gap between us.”

Frecker plans to continue the conversation with more workshops and seminars, as well as with seed grants to help foster preliminary projects that could evolve into something more.

“A large part of this is also supporting the work of undergraduate and graduate students,” Frecker said. “We’ll work to promote collaborative research between students in different majors to demonstrate how different perspectives and varying expertise can come together in impactful ways.”

With an already distinguished career in biomechanics and bioengineering, Frecker hopes to continue innovating new ways to improve human health through her new leadership positions.

“I want to bring researchers and clinicians together like a matchmaker. We need to understand the clinical needs to help motivate the new scientific approaches and engineering technology,” she said. “I’m confident we can do that.”


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Megan Lakatos

“This center will [serve] as a hub for researchers interested in biodevices and elevating the work in areas where Penn State is uniquely positioned to make an impact.”
—Mary Frecker, Riess Chair in the College of Engineering