Rafael Davalos, the L. Preston Wade Professor in biomedical engineering and mechanics in the College of Engineering, has been named the 2021 recipient of the Van C. Mow Medal by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers.

The medal is bestowed upon an individual who has demonstrated meritorious contributions to the field of bioengineering through research, education, professional development, leadership in the development of the profession, mentorship to young bioengineers, and service to the bioengineering community. The award was established by the society’s bioengineering division in 2004.

“Rafael is a tremendously valued member of our faculty here at Virginia Tech,” said Jennifer Wayne, department head and professor in biomedical engineering and mechanics. “He excels in all pillars of academic life. He secures millions of dollars in extramural support to translate his research successes into new technologies for cancer treatment. He engages students in the classroom and lab and serves his profession admirably.” 

Davalos joined the Virginia Tech-Wake Forest School of Biomedical Engineering and Sciences in 2006 and directs research in the Bioelectromechanical Systems Laboratory and the Center for Engineered Health.

He conducts research in microfluidics and the development of technology for cancer treatment. Davalos invented a form of microfluidic-based dielectrophoresis, a method of separating and identifying cells based on their size, electrical properties, or biophysical properties. The technique can be used in targeted cancer therapies and personalized medicine applications.

Perhaps his most recognized invention is irreversible electroporation, a focal ablation technique used to treat cancer patients with inoperable tumors. Irreversible electroporation uses minimally invasive probes to deliver low-energy pulses to targeted tissue, a process that kills diseased cells by destabilizing their membranes. The procedure enables treatment near critical structures like major blood vessels and nerves, allowing clinicians to target previously unreachable tissue. This technology received the Expedited Pathway Designation in 2018 and has been used to help thousands of patients worldwide.

Rafael Davalos, biomedical engineering and mechanics, mentors students in his lab,.
Rafael Davalos, the L. Preston Wade Professor in biomedical engineering and mechanics, directs research in the Bioelectromechanical Systems Laboratory. Photo by Spencer Roberts of Virginia Tech.
Rafael Davalos, biomedical engineering and mechanics, mentors students in his lab,  pictured here a male student with headphones resting around his neck. The two write on a board, processing research together.
Rafael Davalos also directs research in the Center for Engineered Health. Photo by Spencer Roberts of Virginia Tech.

Through his groundbreaking research, Davalos has been issued 35 patents, licensed his technology to five companies, and launched three startup companies, all of which employ Virginia Tech alumni.

He has received numerous awards recognizing his research, service, and other accomplishments throughout his career. He received the Alumni Award for Research Excellence from Virginia Tech in 2020, the Editor’s Honorees Distinction for his paper published in the Journal of Vascular and Interventional Radiology in 2019, and the Innovator Award from the Roanoke-Blacksburg Technology Council in 2014.

Davalos has also previously been honored with a National Science Foundation CAREER Award, a Wallace H. Coulter Foundation Early Career Award, and the Nation’s Most Promising Engineer Award from the Hispanic Engineer National Achievement Awards Corporation. He has also been recognized as an American Society of Mechanical Engineers Fellow, an American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering Fellow, and a Coulter Fellow.

Davalos has served on a multitude of committees, including his current role as council member and treasurer for the International Society for Electroporation-Based Technologies Treatments and on the executive committee as treasurer for the American Society of Mechanical Engineers Bioengineering Division. He has been the plenary speaker for both the 1st and 4th World Congresses on Electroporation, the Society for Cyrobiology, and the Bioelectrochemistry Society. He also serves on numerous editorial boards, including Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE) Transactions on Biomedical Engineering, Bioelectricity, Cancers, and Electrophoresis.

Davalos earned his bachelor’s degree from Cornell University and his master’s degree and Ph.D. from the University of California at Berkeley.

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