New research with potential health, environmental and molecular imaging benefits has been supported by the Eric and Wendy Schmidt Transformative Technology Fund.
The fund stimulates the exploration of bold new ideas that can accelerate progress on grand challenges in science and engineering, launch new discoveries and transform entire fields of research. Projects were selected based on their ability to lead to significant advances in the discovery or implementation of transformative technologies.
“The Schmidt Transformative Technology Fund supports projects that have the power to lead to profound scientific discoveries and technological innovations,” said Dean of Research Pablo Debenedetti, Professor of Engineering and Applied Science in the Class of 1950 and professor of chemical and biological engineering. “This year’s projects address scientific, technical and societal challenges by developing key capabilities – in gene editing, sustainable building materials and molecular imaging – that have substantial potential to impact society in his outfit.”
The fund was created with the support of Eric Schmidt, the former CEO of Google 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 a trustee of Princeton from 2004 to 2008.
The funding supports the development of graduate students and postdoctoral researchers and provides equipment, materials and supplies, as well as prototypes. Since its inception in 2009, the fund has supported 30 research projects at Princeton.
Control flooding by letting water infiltrate
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 — 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, roads and other sections of the urban landscape.
The architecture of the new material will consist of large and small pores arranged to optimize both water absorption and mechanical robustness. The expected result will be a broadly scalable concrete-like material that can benefit groundwater recharge, reduce flooding, and potentially transform the way urban landscapes are built.
Error-free genome editing to model diseases
With the goal of understanding the genetic basis of human diseases, two faculty members will lead a project to develop more efficient and precise approaches to genome engineering in mice.
The team – co-led by Britt Adamson, assistant professor of molecular biology and the 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 insert , delete or replace segments of a gene or a combination of genes. The team will apply recent technical advances to generate new mouse models of human disease, with the aim of accelerating biomedical research in many areas of human health.
Crossing the barriers of molecular imaging
This project brings together molecular biology and chemistry researchers to create an imaging system to identify the precise locations of molecules in living cells.
The team – consisting of Martin Jonikas, associate professor of molecular biology, Alexei Goun, professional specialist in chemistry, and Herschel Rabitz, Charles Phelps Smyth ’16*17 professor of chemistry – intends to build an imaging system in multiple steps that maps the locations of individual molecules.
They will use the system to study one of society’s most important molecules, carbon dioxide, with a focus on how plant cells absorb carbon dioxide and remove it from the atmosphere. The team expects the technology to be able to track molecules in their native environment, facilitating research in fields ranging from medicine to geosciences.