Scientist, who overcame deafness, wins Presidential award for encouraging others to follow his path


WASHINGTON, DC—J. Tilak Ratnanather, PhD, a scientist who was born deaf and has devoted himself to encouraging others with hearing loss to become scientists, mathematicians, and engineers, is one of 14 educators selected to receive the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics, and Engineering Mentoring (PAESMEM).

J. Tilak Ratnanather
J. Tilak Ratnanather

The awards, announced by the White House on March 27, recognize the recipients’ outstanding efforts in recruiting the next generation of innovators and developing a science and engineering workforce that reflects the diverse talent of America.

Ratnanather, an associate research professor in Johns Hopkins University’s Department of Biomedical Engineering, is a leading expert on brain mapping.



Ratnanather, who learned to communicate by reading lips and using hearing aids and now uses a cochlear implant, attended the Mary Hare School, a national grammar school for the deaf in his native Britain, before going on to college.

He told an interviewer from the Johns Hopkins news network that his motivation for mentoring others with hearing loss “stems from a belief that if he can coax these individuals into STEM fields, they will contribute a unique perspective, particularly in the auditory related sciences and medicine.”

He added, “Just as my mentors at University College London, University of Oxford, City University London, and Johns Hopkins University took a chance on me, I am paying it forward for the next generation of deaf and hard-of-hearing students who have chosen to thrive in the demanding, challenging, and exacting environment of regular college.”

The honoree’s research interests include shape analysis of brain structures associated with schizophrenia, Alzheimer’s, Huntington’s, and depression. His work also focuses on deafness and computational problems linked to cochlear and cardiac physiology.

In announcing the award recipients, President Barack Obama said, “These educators are helping to cultivate America’s future scientists, engineers, and mathematicians. They open new worlds to their students, and give them the encouragement they need to learn, discover, and innovate. That’s transforming those students’ futures, and our nation’s future, too.”

The PAESMEM recipients will be honored at the White House later this year, and each will also receive $10,000 from the National Science Foundation.