The Office of the Vice President for Research and Innovation recognizes Alexander Leonessa, an associate professor of mechanical engineering in the College of Engineering, for cutting-edge robotics research aimed at helping people with disabilities.
Leonessa is currently serving as the director of the National Science Foundation General and Age Related Disabilities Program, which supports fundamental engineering research to develop new technologies, devices, or software for persons with disabilities.
A 2011 recipient of an NSF CAREER award, Leonessa has worked to restore the voices of stroke patients and others who have suffered paralysis of the vocal folds.
His goal is to develop a device to improve the quality of life for patients with vocal paralysis or neuromuscular disabilities, including traumatic brain injury, multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy, and Parkinson’s disease. An additional goal is to bio-manufacture an artificial voice box to be used in patients undergoing a laryngectomy, often performed to treat cancer, severe wounds, or severe damage to the larynx from radiation treatment.
Leonessa is with Virginia Tech’s Center of Dynamic Systems Modeling and Control as well as the Terrestrial Robotics Engineering and Controls Laboratory. The members of these laboratories are currently working on the development of several autonomous platforms, including ground vehicles driven by neural input from patients, and several humanoid robots to be used for shipboard firefighting.
The month, he was a part of a team with professor Tomonari Furukawa and professor Brian Lattimer entering the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency Robotics Challenge.
Leonessa received three degrees from Georgia Tech: a doctorate in aerospace engineering, a master’s in applied mathematics, and a master’s in aerospace engineering. He earned his bachelor’s degree in aeronautical engineering from the University of Rome.