Who is Hugh Herr?

Hugh Herr is a remarkably interesting individual.  Currently, he is a professor at MIT, where he heads the MIT Media Lab’s biomechatronics group.  Recognized worldwide as a expert in cutting-edge prostheses, he has won accolades from the scientific community as well as the mainstream media.

In addition to his career in science, Hugh is an accomplished climber, credited with several bold first ascents including Vandals at the Gunks (the first 5.13 on the East coast, this is credited to Russ Clune, Lynn Hill, and Herr), Stage Fright (5.12c X), Cathedral Ledge, NH, and Ride of the Valkyries (5.12a), Leavenworth, WA.  Considering that these routes were all done in the 1980s, this would be impressive on the resume of any climber; however, Herr accomplished this while climbing with two prosthetic legs

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During a disastrous attempted winter ascent of New Hampshire’s Mount Washington, Herr and his climbing partner Jeff Batzer were turned back by a sudden blizzard.  During their descent, the climbers endured winds over 100 MPH and windchills of more than -100° F.  By the time they were rescued three days later, both climbers were severely frostbitten; as a result, both climbers required the amputation of limbs, including both of Herr’s legs below the knee.

After being fitted with prosthetic limbs, Herr resolved to continue climbing, and began tinkering with his prostheses in order to better adapt them for climbing.  Not stopping there, he earned a degree in physics from Millersville University, a masters in mechanical engineering from MIT, and then a PhD in biophysics at Harvard.  Along with other awards, Herr’s “PowerFoot” (which is the first robotic foot to afford the wearer a natural gait) was honored as one ofTime magazine’s best inventions of 2007.

In the video below of a 2010 TED presentation in San Diego, Herr discusses his experiences and the future of advanced bionics.

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