2018 Rigel Humanitarian STAR Award Nominees


Amir H. Kashani, MD, Ph.D.: Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. Amir holds a fellowship in vitreoretinal surgery, Associated Retinal Consultants. Principal investigator for a clinical trial to test a novel stem cell therapy for severe vision loss from advanced dry age-related macular degeneration.

Matthew L. Becker, Ph.D.: Associate Dean for Research, W. Gerald Austen Professor of Polymer Science and Biomedical Engineering, Goodyear Polymer Center, University of Akron. Nominated for his design of an amino acid-based poly(ester urea)s for regenerative medicine.

Alasdair McDowall, Ph.D.: Professor Emeritus of Science, University of Queensland, Brisbane Australia and Research Scientist at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and Caltech. Nominated for his discovery of Vitrification for Cryo-Electron Microscopy.

Dr. Chad A. Mirkin: Director of the International Institute for Nanotechnology and the George B. Rathmann Professor of Chemistry, Professor of Chemical and Biological Engineering, Professor of Biomedical Engineering, Professor of Materials Science and Engineering, and Professor Medicine at Northwestern University. Nominated for his discovery and development of spherical nucleic acids (SNAs) and SNA-based bio-detection which allows doctors to accurately forecast cancer recurrence and guides radiation therapy by monitoring dose responses that ordinarily could not be tracked. Dr. Mirkin’s fundamental chemical discovery introduced a paradigm shift, with the promise of SNAs as vaccines for cancers and other diseases and the possibility to track and isolate live circulating tumor cells.

Dr. Diane Cullinane, MD: Co-Founder and Executive Director of Professional Child Associates (PCDA), a non-profit agency in Pasadena, California. Dr. Cullinane is a leading advocate, trainer, and practitioner of DIR (developmental, individual, relationship-based intervention for children with developmental challenges. Nominated for her therapeutic techniques for developmentally challenged children.

Professor Pablo Moscato: Professor of the School of Electrical Engineering and Computing, University of Newcastle, Australia; Founding Co-Leader of the INFORMATION-BASED MEDICINE PROGRAM of the Hunter Medical Research Institute. Nominated for his application and development of state-of-the-art mathematical models and computer algorithms for the most challenging problems in biology and biotechnology research with emphasis on uncovering the molecular basis of different cellular phenotypes and diseases.

Sumner Norman, Ph.D.: Postdoctoral Scholar – Neural Engineering. Nominated for his brain-computer interface design for robotic movement therapy: a brain-computer interface which enables people to power prosthetic devices with their mind.

Katherine Wilemon: Founder and CEO of FH Foundation. Nominated for her founding of the FH Foundation a leading research and advocacy non-profit organization focused on reducing heart disease by driving scientific understanding and evidence-based care of familiar hypercholesterolemia (FH).

Dr. John Paul Finn: Professor of Radiological Sciences, Medicine, and Biomedical Physics at David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. He currently serves at the Vice-chair of Imaging Technology, Director of Magnetic Resonance Research and Chief of the Diagnostic Cardiovascular Imaging Section of UCLA Health System. Nominated for his contributions to the area of cardiovascular MRIs. He has developed a non-contrast magnetic resonance angiography, contrast-enhanced magnetic resonance angiography, and developed a cardiac MRI for both adults and pediatric patients.


Katherine A. Roberts, Ph.D.: Professor of Forensic Science at Cal State LA where she served as Director of the Criminalistics graduate program since 2001. Nominated for her knowledge sharing in the field of Criminalistics.

Jerry R. Schubel, Ph.D.: President and CEO at the Aquarium of the Pacific since 2002. Nominated for his bold and innovated approach to ocean education through the Aquarium of the Pacific.

Mrs. Aulikki Flagan: Biology, Environmental Science, and Engineering Teacher at Ramona Secondary School and Pasadena City College. Nominated for her engineering and robotics education at the high school and junior college level.

Dr. Mariappan Jawaharlal: Professor of Mechanical Engineering at California State Polytechnic University Pomona. Nominated for his innovative and engaging teaching pedagogy, a hands-on, guided discovery approach to learning with creative project experiences.

James (Jim) Marggraff: Founder and Co-Founder of six companies with over 40 patents. Nominated for his lifelong learning and development, improving the human condition through Virtual and Augmented Reality. Dr. Marggraff has developed technology addressing the issue of human isolation in seniors and others. As well as technologies that transform intent into action through the eyes, allowing people with neurological disabilities, such as ALS, access to knowledge and communications otherwise unavailable to them.

Chess Stetson, Ph.D.: Obtained his Ph.D. and postdoc at Caltech in Computation and Neural Systems. Nominated for his development of artifical intelligence with machine learning to process complex data sets. This project has applications in medicine, finance, computational chemistry and more.

Dr. Melanie Rieback: CEO and Co-Founder of Radically Open Security, the world’s first non-profit computer security consultancy company. Nominated for creating Radically Open Security (ROS) the world’s first not-for-profit computer security consultancy company using an innovative new business model.


Dr. Mihri Ozkan : Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at University of California-Riverside, designated “Climate Action Champion” and “Change Maker Professor,Frontier Fellow of National Academy of Engineering. New battery technology: Developing batteries for electric vehicles using organic matter and inexpensive, abundant renewable resources.

Skip Palenik: Founder and CEO Microtrace LLC. Nominated for his applications of chemical and forensic microscopy.

Isaac Brown: Doctoral Candidate at UCLA Institute of Environment and Sustainability. Nominated for his sustainable urban ecological planning and management.

Matt Powers: Founder and Author of “The Permaculture Student”. Nominated for his online curriculum personally developed in conjunction with specialists from all over the world about Permaculture, a system of agricultural and social design principles centered around simulating or directly utilizing the patterns and features observed in natural ecosystems.

David Hertz and Laura Doss-Hertz: Co-Founders of Sky Source/Skywater Alliance. Nominated for developing a self-contained energy-water generator that condenses moisture in the air, making fresh drinking water.


Dr. Tim McMahon: Director of the Department of Defense DNA Operations, Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory (AFDIL) and Armed Forces Repository of Specimen Samples for the Identification of Remains (AFRSSIR). Nominated for his innovation in the field of human remains identification with his development of a non-chemical treatment of specimens that has a 90% success rate of generating mitochondrial DNA sequencing and over a 50% success rate for generating autosomal STR and male-specific Y STR results.

Dr. John Butler: National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), U.S. Department of Commerce, Special Assistant to NIST Director. Nominated for his DNA database and techniques for identifying victims of disasters or crimes.

Katherine Trujillo: Libraries without Borders, Deputy Director. Nominated for her re-imagining of recovery and rebuilding on how libraries can build resilient communities.

 Maria Velasco: Entrepreneur and Ph.D. candidate in Psychology, Co-Founder of HiveCube. Nominated for her creation of HiveCube a modular housing company dedicated to the fostering of a safe, secure and sustainable Puerto Rican community. With her company, she partnered with Libraries without Borders to create the first completely hurricane-resistant and solar-powered pop-up library and makerspace in the world.

Denotes Winner