Fundamental research with impact far beyond its origins

January 12, 2018

The articles below are excerpted from the Winter 2018 EQuad News magazine.

Portrait of Emily Carter

When asked by alumni, colleagues, and corporate partners about what makes Princeton Engineering unique, I point out stories like Bob Prud’homme’s. As featured below, Bob started his career immersed in the chemistry of polymers and investigating basic questions about how they assemble themselves. But he was always looking ahead to putting his insights to good use. Today, the Gates Foundation has selected his medicine-encapsulating technology as one of the most promising routes to treating cryptosporidiosis, malaria, and other childhood killers in the developing world.

Bob’s example is one of many: At Princeton Engineering, we do fundamental research with a line of sight to societal impact. By fundamental, I mean research that targets root questions, rather than a narrow, short-term problem. It means research that combines curiosity and wonder with a discerning eye toward what roadblocks need to be cleared for innovations that might be 10 or more years away.

It means that, as an organization, we must provide the trust, freedom, and resources for our researchers to do their best work. And we must foster a collaborative culture for creativity to flourish.

Seeing the work of my wonderful colleagues reminds me time and again why that trust and support are well placed. In these pages, you’ll find a small sample of people and projects whose impacts reach far beyond their beginnings. How have attention to fundamentals and long-term impact played a role in your careers? Join us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram or stop in to visit and share your stories.

Emily Carter
Dean
Gerhard R. Andlinger Professor in Energy and the Environment
Professor of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering and Applied and Computational Mathematics

 

Three researchers work with lab equipment

Life saving medicines grow from fundamental chemistry, win Gates Foundation backing

Princeton research helps deliver critical medicines to the developing world

By the time Robert Prud’homme visited the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in Seattle two years ago, his technology for encasing medicine in ultra-small particles had already led to new drug delivery approaches for high-value medical applications, including oncology.

But Gates Foundation officials posed a new challenge... Read more

Four researchers in lab

Cellular insights promise advances in industry and health

Physical principles behind cell structures shed light on neural diseases

Clifford Brangwynne’s research begins with basics. What makes up the tiny structures in cells? How do they grow? How do they interact? Read more

The NUE mobile phone app puts environmental data at users’ fingertips and could ultimately help urban planners

Navigating the urban environment, smartly

Research team examines the environment in urban areas

Elie Bou-Zeid’s research team has planted environmental sensors around Baltimore and New Jersey and built models to forecast shifting winds in towns and cities. Now, he wants to put that information at the fingertips of smartphone users. Read more

Researchers, out of focus, hold up photovoltaic device close to the camera.

New forms shape solar power

Polymer chemistry yields solar cells, sensors, and smart windows

The common image of solar power involves big, blocky panels bolted to a roof. But in the lab of Yueh-Lin (Lynn) Loo, photovoltaics are freed from this cubist form. Read more

Warren Powell ’77, a professor of operations research and financial engineering, has developed methods to help make complex choices in fields from shipping to power management. (Photo by David Kelly Crow)

Making better choices, from power to payloads

Mathematical optimization aids many industries

Many scientists’ work begins with a question in the lab. Warren Powell had a different start.

“My career began with a dinner conversation,” said Powell, a professor of operations research and financial engineering. Read more

Schematic image of human body and tissue types

Data science provides genomic guide to health and disease

Statistics and machine learning clarify complexities of gene regulation

What are the odds that a statistician would work beside doctors at top medical schools?

These days, pretty high. Read more

Professor sitting among students at seminar table

Math marks the path from sonar to cell phones

Early work in signal processing fueled communications revolution.

As a Ph.D. student in the 1970s, H. Vincent Poor helped lead the development of mathematical techniques that allowed radar and sonar to detect objects and estimate their locations.

Then along came cell phones. Read more

Portrait of Edgar Choueiri in his sound studio

Building sound systems and space engines

Physics of propulsion and sound waves yields advances from living rooms to deep space

One lab is not enough for Edgar Choueiri.

The professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering works in two connected laboratories reflecting his research interests in audio technology and spacecraft propulsion. Read more

Picture of Professor Jen Rexford speaking

Making many networks work as one

Work on network protocols grows to big-picture view of Internet stability and safety

With no central authority, the network of networks that makes up the internet manages to connect more disparate groups of people than anything else in history.

Of course, the internet’s storied lack of rules is an illusion. Read more