‘A significant force of good,’ UChicago’s Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering celebrates Class of 2022

Twenty-nine graduate students from the Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering (PME) and 37 undergraduate molecular engineering majors from The College celebrated the completion of their academic journey Saturday, June 4, during the University of Chicago’s 536th Convocation.

The ceremony was the first since President Paul Alivisatos joined the University and Pritzker Molecular Engineering in fall 2021, and the first to be held in person since 2019 due to the Covid-19 pandemic. It took place on the main quadrangles, with a live broadcast available online for those unable to attend in person.

Wendy Freedman, the John and Marion Sullivan University Professor in Astronomy and Astrophysics and the College, delivered the keynote address. Freedman is best known for her measurement of the Hubble constant and for leading the development of the Giant Magellan Telescope.

Laura Niklason, the Nicholas Greene Professor of Anesthesiology and Biomedical Engineering at Yale University; and founder, president, and chief executive officer of Humacyte, delivered the keynote address at PME’s diploma and hooding ceremony at 12:30 p.m., following Convocation.

Niklason is an internationally recognized researcher and pioneer in the field of bioengineering. Her work on regenerative medicine has earned her numerous accolades including Time Magazine’s 50 most important inventions of 2010.

“Our graduates, through their research and scholarly work, have proven their ability and determination to affect real change for societal good, and in doing so, represent the core mission of PME,” said Matthew Tirrell, dean of PME. “Their remarkable creativity and intellectual excellence assure me that this generation of engineers will accomplish many great and necessary things. I commend them on their hard work and look forward to what they will achieve.”

Taylor Gray, a PhD graduate from the Hubbell Lab specializing in immunoengineering, was among those celebrating. She aims to create a “cancer vaccine” by engineering molecules that help the immune system better recognize and attack cancer cells. For her, PME was the perfect ecosystem for innovation.

“PME provided an environment that simply does not exist elsewhere from what I have found,” Gray said. “The school’s interdisciplinary nature allowed me to interact with and learn from colleagues that work in fields completely outside my own. That dynamic, and the learning opportunities provided outside of traditional classes and lab work, such as an improv-based communication course and a science writing course, gave me skills I use daily in both my professional and personal life.”

Gray, who completed her PhD in Autumn Quarter 2021, now works as a scientist for Aakha Biologics, a Dallas-based biotech company working to discover antibodies for immuno-oncology applications.

Also among the graduates was PhD student Manish Kumar Singh, a member of the Guha Lab, who focuses on quantum information systems. Singh came to PME after working for Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company, the world’s largest semiconductor manufacturer, to study quantum engineering, which he believes will have a significant impact in the coming decades.

“Like the internet, quantum technology will revolutionize almost all areas of our daily lives, and PME is one of the best schools to prepare for that,” Singh said. “The collaborative environment and the high-level work here make this a fantastic place for anyone who wants to work at the forefront of science and technology.”

Singh, along with Sean Sullivan, a researcher at Argonne National Laboratory, and Supratik Guha, professor at PME, recently won the George Shulz Innovation Fund award for their startup company, memq, which aims to develop a “quantum system on a chip.”

Whitney Fowler, a graduating PhD from both the de Pablo and Tirrell groups, studies materials that address water quality. She's investigating how to engineer new technologies that can monitor and improve drinking water around the globe, a calling she discovered during her time in Uganda and Rwanda.

“I’ve seen firsthand how the water crisis is affecting people all over the planet, how pervasive it is, so for me, this work is about using science to help address an urgent need,” Fowler said. “I was drawn to PME because of its mission to address real problems, sustainability being one of its main research themes. The community here and the opportunities I’ve received have all been hugely influential.”

Fowler will be joining Harvey Mudd College as an assistant professor in July.

Twenty-one students earned their PhD this year, and eight earned MS degrees.

“At PME, we prepare engineers to be a significant force of good in a world that urgently needs it—and this class has demonstrated time and again that they are very much up for the task,” said Paul Nealey, Brady W. Dougan Professor of Molecular Engineering and vice dean for education and outreach. “The past few years have repeatedly shown the need for capable, driven scientists, and in every instance, these students have risen to the occasion. I wish each of them the best, with the full knowledge that they will accomplish great things regardless.”

Click here for information on the 536th Convocation, including seating, alternative viewing, schedule, and PME’s hooding ceremony.