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PME adds six new faculty

The Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering (PME) at the University of Chicago has recently recruited six new assistant professors for the 2019-2020 academic year, bringing the total number of faculty to 40.

These researchers join an already robust, interdisciplinary team led by Matthew Tirrell, dean of Pritzker Molecular Engineering.

PME, formerly the Institute for Molecular Engineering, recently announced a $100 million commitment from the Pritzker Foundation to expand the University’s research, education, technology development, and impact in molecular engineering, an emerging and fast-growing field that builds on advances in basic science to design technology from the molecular level up.

The new faculty, along with PME’s 300-plus undergraduates, PhD students, postdoctoral researchers, and research staff, will help continue to build programs in quantum engineering, biotechnology and immuno-engineering, advanced materials, energy storage, and ways to ensure a clean global water supply.

“Our new faculty will be instrumental in the ongoing growth and planned expansion of our research and educational programs,” says Tirrell. “Their work complements the existing strengths of PME and their expertise adds new perspectives and knowledge to our mission to develop holistic solutions to issues of global significance.”

The new faculty include:

Chibueze Amanchukwu

Chibueze Amanchukwu joins the PME as a Neubauer Family Assistant Professor of Molecular Engineering. His research focuses on solving energy-related challenges, particularly energy storage and electrocatalysis. He is interested in designing new electrolytes, controlling ionic transport, and understanding/modulating electrochemical instability to engineer energy-dense batteries with a longer lifecycle and efficient electrocatalytic systems.

Amanchukwu earned his PhD in chemical engineering from MIT, where he studied polymer electrolytes for lithium-air batteries. He pursued his postdoctoral work at Stanford University studying small molecule electrolytes for lithium metal batteries, and a visiting fellowship at the University of Cambridge utilizing solid state NMR to study electrochemical systems. His research has been supported by numerous fellowships, including the National Defense Science and Engineering Graduate Fellowship and the TomKat Center Postdoctoral Fellowship. He has received awards from the American Chemical Society (ACS) and the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE).

Huanhuan Joyce Chen

As Assistant Professor in Molecular Engineering and in the Ben May Department for Cancer Research, Joyce Chen studies cancer biology, stem cell biology, regenerative tissue engineering, and genetic engineering. Her current focus is to directly model and study human normal tissue process or diseases “in a dish,” and to understand how cancers initiate and progress using various stages of human cells derived from pluripotent or adult stem cells. From this work, she designs strategies to diagnose, categorize, and treat the diseases more effectively.

A former postdoctoral associate with Harold Varmus at Weill Cornell Medicine, Cornell University, Chen earned her PhD in biomedical engineering from Cornell University. She has received a number of awards supporting her study, including the K99/R00 NIH Pathway to Independence Award in 2019, a $1 million contract to establish an independent research program in the United States through the National Cancer Institute Research Program.

Mark Mimee

Mark Mimee, Assistant Professor in Molecular Engineering and in the Department of Microbiology, examines the use of synthetic biology to engineer the microbiome. His research focuses on understanding and engineering bacteria and bacteriophage to modulate the microbiome and combat drug-resistant bacterial infections. He has also paired probiotic bacteria with microelectronics to create an ingestible, living device used to detect gastrointestinal biomarkers.

Mimee earned his PhD in microbiology from MIT. His research at the MIT Synthetic Biology Center involved working on genetic circuit design, the microbiome, bacteriophage, and biosensors. An experienced author, presenter, and instructor, Mimee has applied for five patents, including “An Ingestible System to Monitor Gastrointestinal Health In Situ” with colleagues Timothy K. Lu, Phillip Nadeau, and Anantha P. Chandrakasan. 

Samantha J. Riesenfeld

An Assistant Professor in Molecular Engineering and Genetic Medicine, Samantha Riesenfeld explores the interface of genomics, systems immunology, and machine learning. Using high-throughput single-cell genomic data, she develops approaches to computationally deduce the circuits that regulate gene expression and cellular function, with a focus on immunological contexts. Through data modeling and targeted validations, she aims to extract from noisy, large-scale data the signals to help answer complex questions, such as what drives a tolerant versus pro-inflammatory immune response and how immune pathways influence tissue function. 

Riesenfeld earned a PhD in theoretical computer science at UC Berkeley. Most recently, she was a postdoctoral associate at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, and at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Harvard Medical School. Previously, she completed a postdoc fellowship in metagenomics at the Gladstone Institutes.

Allison Squires

As a Neubauer Family Assistant Professor of Molecular Engineering, Allison Squires’ research focuses on manipulating, measuring, and understanding the properties and behavior of single molecules. She employs single-molecule fluorescence spectroscopy and single-molecule manipulation and confinement to develop sensing platforms that report on spectroscopic identity, molecular dynamics, and nanoscale energy transfer.

Squires earned a BSE in mechanical engineering and aerospace engineering from Princeton University. She received a PhD in biomedical engineering as a National Science Foundation and Clare Boothe Luce Fellow at Boston University, where she worked on solid-state nanopores as single-biomolecule sensors. Prior to opening her lab at the University of Chicago, she completed post-doctoral training in the chemistry department at Stanford University, where she trapped single particles in free solution to enable detailed study of their photophysical dynamics.

Joshua Weinstein

Joshua Weinstein, Assistant Professor in Molecular Engineering and in the Department of Medicine, Section of Genetic Medicine, is a biophysicist and molecular technologist. He works on developing DNA-based technologies for high-throughput encoding and decoding of biological information with a view toward applications in biology and medicine. He invented DNA microscopy, an imaging modality that uses DNA rather than light as an imaging medium to generate detailed pictures of how genetic diversity distributes spatially across biological specimens.

Weinstein earned a PhD in biophysics at Stanford University, where he published the first global measurements of immune receptor sequence repertoires, using the zebrafish as a model organism, and later worked on immune development and human vaccine response. He completed his postdoctoral work at the Broad Institute/MIT, under the joint-mentorship of Professors Feng Zhang and Aviv Regev.