Endowed professorships recognize innovative research in chemical and biological engineering

Three professors of chemical and biological engineering have been named to endowed professorships, effective Dec. 1.

Portrait of faculty member

Clifford Brangwynne

Courtesy of the John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation

Clifford Brangwynne has been named the inaugural June K. Wu ’92 Professor of Chemical and Biological Engineering, established by a gift from the Wu family. Brangwynne joined the Princeton faculty in 2011 after completing his Ph.D. at Harvard University and a postdoctoral fellowship at the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics and the Max Planck Institute for the Physics of Complex Systems. He was recently appointed the inaugural director of the Princeton Bioengineering Initiative.

Brangwynne has been widely recognized for discovering a previously unknown type of structure within cells that affects a wide range of basic functions in living organisms. Specifically, he pioneered the study of membraneless structures made of condensed biomolecular liquids, which are now thought to play important roles in normal cell functions and numerous diseases.

He has received many honors for his work, including a 2018 MacArthur Foundation Fellowship and an appointment as an investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. Most recently, he won the Nakasone Award from the Human Frontier Science Program. To accelerate the translation of findings from his lab into medical treatments, Brangwynne cofounded a company, Nereid Therapeutics, to develop medicines for cancer, neurodegenerative disorders and other diseases.

Portrait of faculty member

Celeste Nelson

Tori Repp/Fotobuddy

Celeste Nelson has been named the inaugural Wilke Family Professor in Bioengineering, a professorship established by a gift from Jeffrey A. Wilke ’89 and Liesl D. Wilke ’89. Nelson, who directs Princeton’s Program in Engineering Biology, joined the faculty in 2007 after completing her Ph.D. at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and a postdoctoral fellowship at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

Nelson studies the changing structures of animal tissues as they grow and develop into organs, with special attention to the systems that control that development. Her work has made significant impacts on the fundamental understanding of how tissues build themselves, as well as on treatments for a range of diseases, including cancer.

She has been recognized throughout her career for excellence in both teaching and research. In 2016, Nelson became a Faculty Scholar of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, and in that same year, Princeton honored her with the President’s Award for Distinguished Teaching. In 2019, the Biomedical Engineering Society selected her as the second recipient of its Mid-Career Award for “energetic leadership” in biomedical scholarship, education and practice. Nelson is an associated faculty member in Princeton’s Department of Molecular Biology and a member of the Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey’s Breast Cancer Research and Cancer Metabolism and Growth Programs.

Portrait of faculty member

Rodney Priestley

David Kelly Crow

Rodney Priestley has been named the fifth Pomeroy and Betty Perry Smith Professor of Chemical and Biological Engineering, an honor established in 1990 through gifts of Pomeroy Smith, Class of 1946, and his wife Betty Perry Smith. Priestley joined Princeton in 2009 after completing a Ph.D. at Northwestern University and a postdoctoral fellowship at École Supérieure de Physique et de Chimie Industrielles in Paris. Earlier this year, he became Princeton’s first vice dean for innovation. He also serves as the associate director of the Princeton Center for Complex Materials and is the director of graduate studies for the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering.

Priestley’s group research involves describing and developing complex materials, especially nanoparticles, thin polymer films and nanocomposites, focusing on material properties at small length scales. From designing next-generation biocompatible surfactants to creating ultra-stable polymer films resistant to changes upon heating, his work impacts industries ranging from personal care to aerospace. His recent interests include the use of polymers in sustainability and their implications for the environment. For example, his team recently developed a solar absorber gel technology that produces purified water from contaminated sources using sunlight.

His recent recognitions include the 2020 American Physical Society Dillon Medal and 2020 American Chemical Society Macro Letters/Biomacromolecules/Macromolecules Young Investigator Award. The Root named him to its 2014 list of 100 most influential African Americans, and he was selected as a 2018 World Economic Forum Young Scientist.