Warrior Human Performance Research Center

Nicole Sekel of the Warrior Human Performance Research Center operates an imaging tool that estimates the load at which bone will fracture.

A Hub of Military-Driven Research

Pitt is home to world-renowned research that is helping members of our military thrive—in both combat and civilian life. Some of this groundbreaking work is now underway at:

The Human Engineering Research Laboratories  

HERL—a U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Research Center of Excellence—operates in partnership with the University of Pittsburgh. It also serves as the national Center for Wheelchairs and Assistive Robotics Engineering.

HERL’s current and founding director is Rory Cooper, a U.S. Army veteran who sustained a spinal cord injury while stationed overseas.

“9/11 changed everything for me, and I knew in that moment that I needed to use my engineering and scientific talents to help our wounded service members have a better life,” says Cooper, who also serves as Pitt’s assistant vice chancellor for research for health sciences and STEM collaboration.   

Today, Cooper is a living embodiment of what happens when the potential of wounded veterans is unlocked, and he’s spent his career trying to give this same opportunity to others. At HERL, students and scholars work directly with veterans to develop assistive technologies and robotics solutions that help individuals regain their independence after a serious bodily injury. “We’ve changed rehab in this country because of the work we have done at Pitt in partnership with the VA and the Department of Defense,” says Cooper. “Not only for veterans—but for everyone.”

The Warrior Human Performance Research Center

Pitt’s Warrior Human Performance Research Center has a very specific focus: helping military members succeed. Its researchers work closely with service members in the U.S. Navy, Army, Air Force and Marine Corps to develop highly technical biological markers of injury risk as well as tools to keep troops healthy and safe during training and combat.  

Assistive technology robot

Led by Brad Nindl—an Army Reserve officer, Iraqi War veteran and recipient of both the Bronze Star and Combat Action Badge—the center has more than six studies underway at military sites across the nation.     

“It is an exciting time for our center, and the University of Pittsburgh plays a pivotal role in our success,” says Nindl, who serves as vice chair for research in the Department of Sports Medicine and Nutrition in Pitt’s School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences. “Our researchers are uniquely positioned to excel, and this is because we have all the right ingredients: a culture that drives innovation and collaboration, a world-class core of biomedical expertise and remarkable partnerships with the United States military.”

The Center for Military Medicine Research

Pitt’s Center for Military Medicine Research utilizes a cross-disciplinary approach to support the medical research interests of the U.S. departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs.

The center’s director, Dr. Ron Poropatich, spent 30 years working as a pulmonary and critical care physician in the U.S. Army before retiring at the rank of colonel in 2012. Today, he holds the title of professor of medicine in Pitt’s Division of Pulmonary, Allergy and Critical Care Medicine.

Among the center’s recent innovations: TRAuma Care In a Rucksack (TRACIR), a fully autonomous medical backpack—now under development for the U.S. Army—that can deliver robotically controlled care to injured soldiers in remote and austere environments.

Poropatich notes that the TRACIR is poised for use far beyond the active combat zone. It could “be deployed by drone to hikers or mountain climbers injured in the wilderness or expand trauma care capabilities in rural health clinics or be used by aid workers responding to natural disasters,” he has said of the technology.

Information accurate as of Nov. 11, 2021.

Did You Know?

In 1914, veterans from the Spanish-American and Philippine-American wars convened on what is now the Pittsburgh campus to form one of nation’s first VFW chapters.