Neuroethics researcher and professor joins Penn State


By Tessa M. Pick

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Laura Cabrera, a researcher in neuroethics and neurotechnologies, joined the Penn State Department of Engineering Science and Mechanics as an associate professor on March 1.

Cabrera’s appointment includes serving as a research associate in the Rock Ethics Institute, the Dorothy Foehr Huck and J. Lloyd Huck Early Career Chair in Neuroethics in the Huck Institutes of the Life Sciences, a core faculty member in the Center for Neural Engineering and an affiliate associate professor of bioethics and philosophy in Penn State’s College of the Liberal Arts.

“Dr. Cabrera has an exceptional interdisciplinary background in electrical engineering, applied ethics, social sciences, health research, public policy, theory and with community organizations,” said Judith Todd, head of engineering science and mechanics. “She will bring together members of all these constituencies to consider the ethical issues related to neuroenhancement, non-medical and medical use of brain stimulation technologies, environmental neuroethics, memory manipulation and other relevant neuroethical issues.”

With an educational background in engineering and applied ethics, Cabrera’s passion lies with neuroethics, an interdisciplinary topic that focuses on the ethical and social implications of neuroscience and neurotechnology. Neuroethics, although expanding quickly across institutes and governments, is a developing field of study that has come a long way in the last few decades, according to Cabrera.

“There are not many engineering colleges that offer neuroethics-based positions and courses,” Cabrera said. “When I heard about this position and read the description, I got the feeling that this position was written for me. My bachelor’s degree is in engineering, so it was really exciting to know that I will have the chance to collaborate with engineers and help train future engineers.”

As part of numerous units at Penn State, Cabrera plans to develop graduate and undergraduate courses that focus on ethics and collaborate with her colleagues to integrate neuroethical considerations into their work. Cabrera’s vision is to create a center for neuroethics that is housed in the College of Engineering and promotes multidisciplinary work across numerous units at Penn State.

“Being able to create a space where I can bring together faculty and students to really focus on their interests within the space of neuroethics is something I would love to do,” she said. “There are many grant applications and important developments that are related to neuroethics happening now, and this would be a great way to build momentum in the field.”

Cabrera will also assist in further developing the bioethics program at Penn State and establishing courses that will be available across the engineering science and mechanics, bioethics and philosophy disciplines.

As a research associate in the Rock Ethics Institute, Cabrera will focus on developing interdisciplinary ethics research, teaching and outreach initiatives within the institute.

“Cabrera’s groundbreaking research shows that the development of effective neurotechnologies goes hand-in-hand with a consideration of their ethical and social impacts,” said Ted Toadvine, Nancy Tuana Director of the Rock Ethics Institute. “She brings new opportunities for engineers, scientists and ethicists to partner in designing the technologies of tomorrow.”

As part of the Huck Institutes of the Life Sciences, Cabrera will contribute to the unit’s trans-disciplinary approach to research, cutting across traditional boundaries to broaden Penn State’s frame of reference on emerging areas of importance.

“The life sciences, engineering and humanities intersect in many contexts that are going to change our world,” said Andrew Read, director of the Huck Institutes of the Life Sciences.

“I’m really pleased we were able to attract a scholar of Dr. Cabrera’s caliber to build programs at one of these vital intersections.”

Before joining Penn State, Cabrera worked as an assistant professor in neuroethics at Michigan State University. Cabrera obtained her bachelor’s degree in electrical and communication engineering from Instituto Tecnológico y de Estudios Superiores de Monterrey in Mexico. She earned a master’s degree in applied ethics with additional course work in science, technology and society from Linköping University in Sweden and a doctorate in applied ethics from Charles Sturt University in Australia.


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College of Engineering Media Relations

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Laura Cabrera joined the Penn State Department of Engineering Science and Mechanics and the Rock Ethics Institute on March 1. She also joined the Huck Institutes of the Life Sciences, the Center for Neural Engineering and the bioethics program in Penn State’s College of the Liberal Arts. IMAGE: PROVIDED BY LAURA CABRERA