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Synthetic limbs: Rasmussen’s lifelong quest

Lenore Rasmussen’s lifelong quest to develop a material that can be used in prosthetics began when she was growing up on a farm in West Virginia.  Many people are injured, often fatally, in farm accidents, and Rasmussen’s cousin nearly lost his leg working on the farm when Rasmussen was in graduate school. That experience fueled her ambition to develop better prosthetics and she has devoted her life to doing just that.

Rasmussen was further spurred on in her quest to develop the material when she and her family attended the 2013 Boston Marathon. Along with her husband and children, she watched the elite runners win. When her ten-year-old son reported being hungry and tired, they left the finish line observing area. The bombing occurred at that spot 22 minutes later.  Seeing the many people who lost limbs during the attack, including children, made Rasmussen more determined than ever to develop advanced prosthetic limbs employing her synthetic muscle technology.

Rasmussen is a synthetic polymer chemist, who founded RAS Labs in 2003. She began working with PPPL in the early stages of the company from 2007 through 2011. Rasmussen moved to Massachusetts in 2011 and the company is now headquartered in Quincy.  In 2013, she won a highly competitive grant from the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS) to pursue the synthetic muscle experiment on the International Space Station National Laboratory (ISS-NL) through the MassChallenge global business accelerator.

She attended the payload launch at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Kennedy Space Center with her 12-year-old son Carl, and her mother, Winola Carman. Carman lives on the family farm in Pennsboro, West Virginia, where five generations of Rasmussen's family have lived.  Rasmussen said she wanted her mother to be there because of her years of support, including putting Rasmussen and her brothers through college. Carman did so by working nights as a nurse.

For Rasmussen, the launch is the culmination of her dreams. “It was beautiful,” Rasmussen said the day after the launch. “It looked like poetry. It was just really, really cool.”

Rasmussen holds a PhD in chemistry, with a specialty in polymer chemistry, from Virginia Tech and a master’s degree in biology, with a specialty in biophysics, from Purdue University. She previously worked at Johnson & Johnson in the 1990s, and lived in Hillsborough, New Jersey, until 2011. She is the editor of the book, “Electroactivity in Polymeric Materials,” and wrote a chapter ion the theory of contraction (Springer-Verlag © 2012), and has another book on electroactivity in progress.

Rasmussen has also worked with numerous interns pursuing careers in science and engineering through PPPL’s college internship program. “She’s smart, she’s energetic, and she’s an inspiration for young scientists, particularly young women,” said Lew Meixler, who headed the Department of Technology Transfer at PPPL until his recent retirement.


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