Alumnus Rentschler named finalist for international award
By Ashley Washburn
Mark Rentschler, a 2001 and 2006 graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, is a finalist for the 2007 BMW Group's International Scientific Innovation Award. Since 1991, the BMW Group has conferred the Scientific Award biennially to recent graduates whose thesis projects demonstrate excellence in innovation. He is one of five finalists from a field of 241 applicants from 25 countries.
During his doctoral work at UNL, Rentschler was instrumental in helping University of Nebraska researchers Shane Farritor and Dmitry Oleynikov design camera-carrying miniature surgical robots that better enable surgeons to view the abdomen during laparoscopic surgery. Rentschler's research has led to four issued patents, and he has five more patent applications under review.
Last summer he was a key member of NASA's NEEMO 9 expedition, an analogous underwater mission in which four aquanauts (the undersea version of astronauts) each spent two hours using the mini robots to perform tasks mimicking real surgical procedures. Rentschler helped train the aquanauts prior to the mission, and with direction from Oleynikov, guided them through the procedure via live videoconference at the University of Nebraska Medical Center.
He is now the director of operations for Nebraska Surgical Solutions Inc., a startup company led by Farritor, UNL associate professor of mechanical engineering, and Oleynikov, UNMC's director of minimally invasive surgery.
The Omaha-based company, founded in 2006, is a partnership between UNL and UNMC researchers to design and commercialize robots for minimally invasive surgery. Rentschler will travel to Munich, Germany, in September to present his dissertation to a jury of scientists. The winner of the BMW Award, one of the most valuable prizes for junior researchers, will be announced in December.
Being named a finalist is Rentschler's latest accomplishment. In 2006, he won the university's Graduate Research Assistant Award, which honors outstanding research and creative activity. In 2003, Rentschler was selected from 1,500 candidates to receive a three-year National Defense Science and Engineering Graduate Fellowship. He also was an intern with the NASA Academy and the Cessna Aircraft Company.
An Atkinson native, Rentschler earned his bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering from UNL in 2001, his master's degree in mechanical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2003 and his doctoral degree in biomedical engineering from UNL in 2006.