Martine LaBerge of Clemson University received InnoVision’s Dr. Charles Townes Individual Lifetime Achievement Award in a Nov. 9 virtual ceremony.
LaBerge joined Clemson University in 1990 and has served as chair of the bioengineering department for more than 19 years. Colleagues credit her with building the department into a powerhouse of translational research and education that creates the leaders and innovators who are crucial to South Carolina’s life sciences industry.
The Charles Townes award honors individuals who have exhibited a sustained commitment to the advancement of technology and the community through their technology-oriented and innovative contributions.
“It’s an individual award, but in reality it should be a team award because no one is ever alone on that stage, especially for this prestigious award,” LaBerge said. “I’m very honored because I’m following the best and the brightest in South Carolina.”
The award’s namesake, the late Charles Townes, was a graduate of Greenville High School and Furman University and is the only person other than the Dalai Lama and Mother Teresa to win both a Nobel Prize and a Templeton Prize.
Colleagues said LaBerge has devoted her career to advancing bioengineering technology and building communities of scholars, entrepreneurs and industry leaders to foster innovation. She has helped Clemson establish strategic partnerships with the likes of Arthrex, Prisma Health and the Medical University of South Carolina.
LaBerge played a central role in establishing the Clemson University Biomedical Engineering Innovation Campus (CUBEInC). Her support was also instrumental in establishing two separate Centers of Biomedical Excellence at Clemson, both funded with multi-million grants from the National Institutes of Health.
LaBerge has held numerous leadership positions in professional organizations, including president of the Society of Biomaterials, member of the Biomedical Engineering Society Board of Directors and chair of the Council of Chairs of Bioengineering and Biomedical Engineering in the U.S. and Canada.
Several of LaBerge’s colleagues and former students said she is highly deserving of the award.
Steve Johnson, a previous recipient of the Charles Townes award and member of the bioengineering department’s advisory board, said that when LaBerge joined Clemson as an assistant professor more than 30 years ago, she set out to make Clemson a leading bioengineering school.
“Since then, she has pursued that vision with determination, passion and a commitment to excel– to stand above what other schools would accept as just good enough,” he said. “Since becoming chair of the department nearly 20 years ago, she has brought in the best talent, created the most innovative programs and attracted the brightest students from across the country and the world.”
I.V. Hall laid the foundation for his career by studying for his master’s degree under LaBerge. He now serves as vice president, Research & Development, Digital, Robotics & Capital Equipment at DePuy Synthes.
“She leads with an infectious passion and energy that spills over into the rest of the department,” he said. “She cares for everybody. If she brings you into her network, she’s not letting go.”
Joey Wilson, who is now a consultant at EY-Parthenon in Munich, Germany, first met LaBerge when he was a high school student conducting research at Clemson. He later enrolled as a bioengineering student and left his mark on the University as student body president. He graduated in 2017 and continued his education as a Schwarzman Scholar in Beijing and as a Cambridge International Scholar in the United Kingdom.
“Not only is Dr. LaBerge a strong force, super intelligent and super accomplished, but she is one of the most empathetic people as well,” Wilson said. “Certainly, she fills a room with her presence, but she is really like a mother. She cares about how you are doing and is there to support you. She helped me along my path at Clemson, and I don’t think I’d be here today where I’m sitting now without her support.”
Anand Gramopadhye, dean of the College of Engineering, Computing and Applied Sciences, said that LaBerge is an exemplary leader and researcher.
“She is extremely well known across the nation,” he said. “Dr. LaBerge is the one who put Clemson’s bioengineering department on the map. When history is written about this college and the bioengineering department, we will stand on the shoulders of Dr. LaBerge.”
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