On Friday, Jan. 28, the University of Connecticut celebrated Dr. Cato T. Laurencin for winning the 106th annual Spingarn Medal, the highest honor of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).
A professor at UConn, Laurencin is also a world-renowned engineer, physician and scientist. He is the first engineer to receive the NAACP’s top honor, as well as the fourth physician and fifth scientist award.
The medal recognizes Laurencin for his accomplishments in tissue regeneration, biomaterial science, nanotechnology and regenerative engineering, a field that he founded himself, according to a press statement from the NAACP.
“[Laurencin’s] exceptional career has made him the foremost engineer-physician-scientist in the world,” read the press statement. “His breakthrough achievements have resulted in transformative advances in improving human life. His fundamental contributions to materials science and engineering include introducing nanotechnology into the biomaterials field for regeneration.”
According to the NAACP, the medal honors “the man or woman of African descent and American citizenship who shall have made the highest achievement during the preceding year or years in any honorable field.”
The award was first established in 1914 by Joel Spingarn, the former chairman of the NAACP’s board of directors. Previous award recipients include George Washington Carver, W.E.B. DuBois, Jackie Robinson and Sidney Poitier.
“I am extremely excited and honored to receive an award that has been given for over 100 years and has celebrated some of America’s greatest leaders across science, the arts and civil rights,” Laurencin said in a phone call.
Laurencin was named one of the “100 Engineers of the Modern Era” by the American Institute of Chemical Engineers for his work in creating the field of regenerative engineering. He is also the first surgeon elected to all four of the national academies: the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, the National Academy of Medicine and the National Academy of Inventors:.
“I started a new field that is called regenerative engineering and it is the convergence or the bringing together of a number of exciting technologies, from nanotechnology, to stem cell science, to developmental biology, to physics and also to surgery,” Laurencin said of his work. “It has allowed us to create new science and new knowledge, but also new treatments for clinical benefit…to develop salt tissue and to help people.”
At UConn, Laurencin is a professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering, professor of materials science and engineering, professor of biomedical engineering and an Albert and Wilda Van Dusen Distinguished Professor of Orthopedic Surgery. He is also the director of the Raymond and Beverly Sackler Center for Biomedical, Biological, Physical and Engineering Sciences, as well as the chief executive officer of the Connecticut Convergence Institute for Translation in Regenerative Engineering.
“I’m just extremely proud to receive an award and honor that’s been given to George Washington Carver, that’s been given to Martin Luther King, that’s been given to Sidney Poitier—who just recently passed,” Laurencin said. “I hope to be able to continue the work that we’re doing, to benefit the world. It’s just extremely gratifying that the NAACP has recognized the work that we’re doing and has placed me in the company of these great individuals.
More information about Laurencin’s work and creation of regenerative engineering can be found on UConn Health’s website.