Rebecca R. Richards-Kortum received her B.S. in Physics and Mathematics from the University of Nebraska, Lincoln in 1985, her M.S. in Physics from MIT in 1987, and her Ph.D. in Medical Physics from MIT in 1990. She is the Malcolm Gillis University Professor of Bioengineering at Rice University in Houston, Texas, USA.
Her research and teaching focus is on the development of low-cost, high-performance technologies for remote and low-resource settings. She is known for providing vulnerable populations with access to life-saving health technologies that address diseases and conditions that cause high morbidity and mortality, such as cervical and oral cancer, premature birth, sickle cell disease and malaria.
She is one of five eminent U.S. scientists and engineers selected in June 2018 to serve the U.S. Department of State as a U.S. Science Envoy for Health Security. She is also the first Houston scientist, the first Houston woman, and the first Rice faculty member to win a coveted "genius grant" from the MacArthur Foundation (2016). In July 2017, the MacArthur Foundation named an international team of collaborators led by Richards-Kortum a finalist for its 100&Change $100 million grant competition for its plan to end preventable newborn deaths in Africa within 10 years. Supporting this plan is a new $15 million grant from the MacArthur Foundation to Richards-Kortum and her team for the development and implementation of Newborn Essential Solutions and Technologies, or NEST, which is an integrated group of 17 lifesaving neonatal technologies that could prevent 85 percent of the newborn deaths in Africa.
Richards-Kortum is a Fellow of OSA and the National Academy of Inventors and a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, the American Philosophical Society, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, IEEE, and SPIE. She has won the Y.C. Fung Young Investigator Award from the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, the Presidential Young Investigator, Presidential Faculty Fellow awards from the National Science Foundation, the Becton Dickinson Career Achievement Award from the Association for the Advancement of Medical Instrumentation, the Sharon Keillor Award for Women in Engineering Education, the Chester F. Carlson Award from the American Society for Engineering Education, the Vice President Recognition Award by IEEE, named the Pritzker Distinguished Scientist and Lecturer of the Biomedical Engineering Society's 2010 Annual Meeting, the Celebrating Women in Science Award from BioHouston, Inc., and the Women Leaders in Medicine Award by the American Medical Student Association. The American Institute for Medical and Biomedical Engineering selected Richards-Kortum for its Pierre Galletti Award for her leadership toward the creation of the global-health engineering discipline, as well as for her engineering solutions to save countless maternal, newborn and vulnerable lives in resource-limited settings. Richards-Kortum's excellence in teaching and educational program development and implementation at Rice have been recognized by the George R. Brown Award for Superior Teaching by the Association of Rice Alumni.
From OSA, she received the Michael S. Feld Biophotonics Award in 2014 “for exceptional contributions to advancing the applications of optics in disease diagnosis and inspiring work in disseminating low-cost health technologies to the developing world.” She was elected a Fellow in the same year, and previously became a Senior Member of OSA in 2012.