Pew names soft matter expert Sujit Datta to biomedical scholars program

Monday, Jun 21, 2021
by Scott Lynon for Engineering Communications

The Pew Charitable Trust has named soft matter expert Sujit Datta to the Pew Scholars Program in the Biomedical Sciences, one of 22 early-career researchers selected for the 2021 cohort.

Datta, an assistant professor of chemical and biological engineering, studies the dynamics of soft and living systems in complex environments, including human tissues and porous membranes such as those found in the gut, lungs and skin. His work involves what he calls squishy engineering, and touches on applications in energy, environmental remediation and—pertinent to the Pew scholarship—human health.

“Biomedical research is one of the best pathways we have to understand and overcome the world's greatest health hurdles,” said Craig C. Mello, a 1995 Pew scholar and 2006 Nobel laureate in physiology or medicine, in the organization's news release. Mello chairs the national advisory committee for the scholars program and said he is "confident that these researchers will uphold the Pew scholar legacy of advancing scientific discovery.”

Over the past few years Datta’s lab has revealed fundamental insights into how bacteria navigate tight spots, and by extension invented a tunable assay platform, known as PoreBiome, on which researchers can more deeply study bacterial behavior for biomedical applications. That work stems from Datta's underlying specialty: building 3D porous spaces out of transparent materials to closely mimic soil, soft tissue and other habitats that frustrate conventional imaging.

As a Pew scholar, Datta will focus that expertise on microbiome assembly, architecture and physiology in complex biological tissues and gels. He will receive a total of $300,000 in research funding over the next four years.

The other researchers in the 2021 cohort, all of whom are junior faculty members at research institutions, will explore topics including the genetic evolution of cancer cells, how regulatory RNAs influence embryonic development, and how animals select specific types of foods for nutrition, according to Pew.

Last year Datta was awarded the Unilever Award from the American Chemical Society, recognizing the impacts of his work on fluids, gels and biomaterials. He was also named an Innovative Early-Career Engineer from the National Academy of Engineering and listed as one the American Institute of Chemical Engineers' 35 Under 35. He was previously awarded a CAREER Award from the National Science Foundation, among many other honors.

Datta joined Princeton in 2017 after a postdoctoral fellowship at the California Institute of Technology. In addition to his primary appointment, he is an associated faculty member in the Princeton Bioengineering Initiative, the Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment, the High Meadows Environmental Institute and the Princeton Institute of Materials.