Engineer Wentai Liu honored with Popular Mechanics Breakthroughs Award

Artificial retina patient Barbara Campbell and researchers Uday Patel, Wentai Liu, and Sat Pannu (left to right) discussed the future of neural prostheses at the 2010 Breakthrough Conference. Photo courtesy of Popular Mechanics.

Popular Mechanics magazine has awarded a 2010 Breakthroughs Award to Wentai Liu, professor of electrical engineering at UCSC's Baskin School of Engineering, and his collaborators on the Artificial Retina Project.

For more than two decades, Liu has been working with a team of doctors and engineers to develop a retinal implant that can restore vision to people who have gone blind from degenerative retinal diseases, such as macular degeneration and retinitis pigmentosa. He designed the microchip that is at the heart of the artificial retina, which is now being tested in clinical trials.

Liu has been involved in the project since its inception. He and his collaborators are continuing to work on improved models of the retinal implant. Other members of the team honored by Popular Mechanics for their work on the project include Mark Humayun and James Weiland of the Doheney Eye Institute; Satinderpall Pannu of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory; Armand Tanguay of the University of Southern California; Yu-Chong Tai of the California Institute of Technology; Kurt Wessendorf of Sandia National Laboratory; and Robert Greenberg of Second Sight Medical Products.

At an awards ceremony in New York City on October 5, Liu took part in a panel discussion with three other scientists involved in the Artificial Retina Project and one patient who has an artificial retina implant (see Popular Mechanics news story).

From digital sight for the blind to earthquake-proof buildings, the sixth annual Popular Mechanics Breakthroughs Awards recognized a wide range of innovators and products poised to change the world in the fields of technology, medicine, aviation, environmental engineering, and more. The 2010 honorees included genomics pioneer J. Craig Venter, who received the Leadership Award.

"The 2010 Popular Mechanics Breakthrough Award honorees are the people and products leading the way into the future, and we're thrilled to recognize their advances," said James Meigs, editor-in-chief of Popular Mechanics.