Health, environment and imaging are the focus of this year’s Schmidt Transformative Technology Fund grants – Advice Eating

New research efforts with potential health, environmental and molecular imaging benefits were funded by the Eric and Wendy Schmidt Transformative Technology Fund.

The fund encourages the exploration of bold new ideas that can accelerate progress on grand challenges in science and technology, fuel new discoveries and transform entire fields of research. Projects were selected for their ability to lead to significant advances in the discovery or implementation of transformative technologies.

“The Schmidt Transformative Technology Fund supports projects that can lead to profound scientific discoveries and technological innovations,” said Research Dean Pablo Debenedetti, Class of 1950 professor of engineering and applied sciences and professor of chemical and biological engineering. “This year’s projects address scientific, technical and societal challenges by developing key skills – in genomic editing, sustainable building materials and molecular imaging – that have significant potential to impact society at large.”

The fund was created with the support of Eric Schmidt, former Google chief executive officer and former executive chairman of Alphabet Inc., Google’s parent company, and Wendy Schmidt, a businesswoman and philanthropist. Eric Schmidt received his bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from Princeton in 1976 and served as Princeton Trustee from 2004 to 2008.

Sujit Datta, Assistant Professor of Chemical and Bioengineering; Emily Davidson, Assistant Professor of Chemical and Bioengineering; and Reza Moini, Assistant Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering.

The funding supports the development of doctoral students and postdocs and provides devices, materials and consumables as well as prototypes. Since its inception in 2009, the fund has supported 30 research projects at Princeton.

Combating flooding by water infiltration

Three faculty members aim to reduce urban flooding by developing a new concrete-like material that absorbs rainwater and then slowly releases it back into the environment. According to the team, which is co-led by Reza Moini, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering, Emily Davidson, assistant professor of chemical and biological engineering, and Sujit Datta, assistant professor of chemical and biological engineering, the new material could be used in sidewalks, streets and other sections of the urban landscape.

The architecture of the new material will consist of large and small pores arranged in a way that optimizes both water absorption and mechanical robustness. The intended result will be a broadly scalable concrete-like material that can promote groundwater recharge, reduce flooding and potentially change the way urban landscapes are built.

Two researchers in the atrium of the Lewis Sigler Institute

Britt Adamson, Assistant Professor of Molecular Biology and Lewis-Sigler Institute for Integrative Genomics; and Eszter Posfai, Assistant Professor of Molecular Biology.

Error-free genome editing for modeling diseases

Aiming to understand the genetic basis of human diseases, two faculty members will lead a project to develop more efficient and accurate approaches to genetic engineering in mice.

The team — co-led by Britt Adamson, assistant professor of molecular biology and Lewis-Sigler Institute for Integrative Genomics, and Eszter Posfai, assistant professor of molecular biology — will work with the CRISPR-Cas system, which allows researchers to identify segments of a gene or a combination delete or replace genes. The team will apply recent technical advances to generate new mouse models of human diseases with the goal of accelerating biomedical research in many areas of human health.

3 researchers in a lab

Herschel Rabitz, Charles Phelps Smyth ’16*17 Professor of Chemistry; Martin Jonikas, Associate Professor of Molecular Biology; and Alexei Goun, professional specialist in chemistry.

Breaking down barriers in molecular imaging

This project brings together molecular biology and chemistry researchers to develop an imaging system capable of identifying the precise positions of molecules in living cells.

The team — consisting of Martin Jonikas, Associate Professor of Molecular Biology, Alexei Goun, Physician in Chemistry, and Herschel Rabitz, Charles Phelps Smyth ’16 *17 Professor of Chemistry — intends to build a multi-level imaging system that reveals the location of individual molecules.

They will use the system to study one of the most important molecules for society, carbon dioxide, with a focus on how plant cells absorb and remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. The team expects the technology will be able to track molecules in their native environment, aiding research in fields ranging from medicine to earth sciences.

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