September 2014

Pioneering O&P engineer Dudley Childress dies after 47-year career

By Emily Delzell

Dudley S. Childress, PhD, professor emeritus of physical medicine and rehabilitation at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine and director emeritus of the Northwestern University Prosthetic Orthotic Center (NUPOC) in Chicago, died on August 6 after a long illness. He was 79.

Childress spent 47 years at Northwestern, becoming a key figure in rehabilitation engineering and an internationally recognized leader in O&P research.

He was the first biomedical engineer appointed to a joint faculty position in the medical and engineering schools at Northwestern, and in the late 1960s pioneered the design of myoelectrically controlled prosthetic devices.

More recently Childress developed theories of walking that have been applied to improve gait in people with limb loss, and he and his team originated the idea of foot rollover shape to describe a fundamental objective of the able-bodied foot-ankle system during gait. In 1998, Childress and his colleagues developed a state-of-the-art motion analysis system, one of a few such research tools dedicated to studies of prostheses, orthoses, and other assistive devices.

He also served as director of Northwestern’s Prosthetics Research Laboratory and the Rehabilitation Engineering Research program, and as a senior rehabilitation research scientist at the VA Chicago Health Care System.

He mentored more than 50 graduate students during his career and received many honors and awards. The Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences elected him as a member in 1995, and in 2002 he received the VA Rehabilitation Research and Development Service’s Paul B. Magnuson Award, the highest honor given by the service.

In 2004, he received the Mentor Award from the Rehabilitation Engineering Society of North America in recognition of his years of outstanding mentorship. In 2005 he received the da Vinci Lifetime Achievement Award, and in 2007 the Amputee Coalition Ernest Burgess Lifetime Achievement Award. In 2010 he received the VA Rehabilitation Research and Development Service Lifetime Service Award.

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