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ODU's Karl Schoenbach Wins Worldwide Research Award

By Brendan O'Hallarn

Karl Schoenbach, founding director of Old Dominion's Frank Reidy Research Center for Bioelectrics and one of the world's pioneers in the research discipline, is the 2017 recipient of the d'Arsonval Award, the most prestigious award in the field of bioelectromagnetics.

Marthinus Van Wyk of the Bioelectromagnetics Society said the d'Arsonval Award was created to recognize "extraordinary accomplishment," which can consist of exceptional scientific achievements or practical application of electromagnetic fields for human benefit.

Schoenbach, a professor emeritus of engineering who came to Old Dominion in 1985, will receive the award at the Bioelectromagnetics Society and the European Bioelectromagnetics Association joint meeting in Hangzhou, China, in June, when he will present the d'Arsonval Lecture.

"I am extremely pleased that our work at the Frank Reidy Research Center for Bioelectrics is being recognized by the Bioelectromagnetics Society," Schoenbach said. "And not just for the Center's contribution to science, but also for the development of novel medical therapies with a great potential for treating patients with cancer and other diseases."

Schoenbach added that the international recognition wouldn't have been possible without the team of electrical engineers and biologists who have worked in bioelectrics at Old Dominion over the past two decades. "And so, this award is not just given to honor me, but also my colleagues at the center without whom this research wouldn't have succeeded."

John Catravas, interim executive director of the Reidy Center, burst with pride at the recognition for his colleague.

"Dr. Schoenbach's contributions to the field of bioelectrics have been well-known, numerous and far-reaching," Catravas said. "The prestigious d'Arsonval Award is one more just recognition of his significant achievements that honors him as well as the Frank Reidy Research Center for Bioelectrics, which he founded, and, of course, Old Dominion University."

Schoenbach was one of the first scientists in the world to realize the potential value of applying nanosecond-duration, high-voltage electrical pulses to biological cells, a procedure that has become a major area of research and development known as bioelectrics.

The field has evolved far beyond even what Schoenbach envisioned was possible when he began working in pulsed power and plasma physics more than 40 years ago in his native Germany.

Schoenbach came to Old Dominion in 1985, when the military was still the predominant client for pulsed power applications. The decline of military research expenditures with the end of the Cold War meant that new uses had to be found for this still-emerging technology.

"It was in the early 1990s that new ideas popped up," Schoenbach said in "Built from the Ground Up," a history of Old Dominion's Frank Batten College of Engineering and Technology. "We wondered if it was possible to escape from a relatively narrow range of pulsed power applications, into commercial applications, into medical applications. We had all the expertise, all the systems, we needed to test new concepts."

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