UMass Amherst Nursing Researcher Rachel Walker Named AAAS-Lemelson Invention Ambassador

Rachel Walker
Rachel Walker

AMHERST, Mass. – Rachel Walker, assistant professor of nursing at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, is the first nurse to be selected by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and the Lemelson Foundation as an AAAS-Lemelson Invention Ambassador. The eight 2018-19 ambassadors were announced today in New York.

AAAS and the Lemelson Foundation developed the Invention Ambassadors program to highlight the importance of invention and inventors in improving the quality of life globally. The program was piloted in 2013 and has created 32 Ambassadors prior to this year’s cohort. According to AAAS, the Invention Ambassadors will “Inspire a new and diverse generation of inventors dedicated to solving difficult global challenges, inform on the components needed to create inventions that sustainably solve global problems and influence policymakers, thought leaders and the public.”

Walker is a nurse inventor whose scholarship is grounded in her experiences as a rural emergency medical and disaster relief worker, U.S. Peace Corps volunteer and oncology nurse. She is associate director for the UMass Amherst Institute for Applied Life Science’s Center for Personalized Health Monitoring. Her team focuses on person-driven and participatory approaches to promoting dignity, capability, and health equity over the life course. Walker works collaboratively with patient advocates and community leaders, clinicians, industry partners, and scholars from a wide variety of disciplines to develop technology, models of care, and other innovations that support cancer symptom self-management and survivors’ ability to engage in the roles and activities that are most important to them and their families.

Walker’s innovation includes a National Institutes of Health-sponsored pilot study using computational eyeglasses, developed by the UMass computer science researchers, to monitor biomarkers of cancer-related fatigue in real-time. She is currently working on other team projects to develop a portable, self-contained machine capable of generating critical IV fluids from existing water sources in low-resource and disaster settings and a device to detect toxic byproducts of chemotherapy in bodily fluids. A Susan G. Komen Foundation for Breast Cancer Research grant recipient, Walker is currently working with a team to develop an off-the-shelf toolkit for breast cancer survivors to increase wellness and sense of control after treatment. This toolkit is intended to be available through accessible platforms such as Amazon.

In addition to her work in nursing and innovation, Walker has worked to influence policy both on campus and by visiting Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. to speak with legislators and their staff on issues related to health care and nursing.

As the first nurse to be selected as an AAAS-Lemelson Invention Ambassador, Walker says she feels proud to represent her profession.

“For our patients, invention means hope. And nurses are natural innovators—if you want to know how to hack a problem, just ask a nurse. But nurses aren't socialized to take credit for their work. And in my mind, every nurse is an inventor. I’m honored and so excited to have this opportunity to spread the word about the remarkable contributions nurses make every day to the health and well-being of the people and communities we serve,” Walker says.

As an Invention Ambassador, Walker will attend a “Celebrate Invention” event in Washington D.C. in July and speak at public engagement activities on the importance of invention.