Researchers' invention girds the gut to take first place in pitch-style Innovation Forum

Written by
Office of Engineering Communications
Oct. 12, 2020

In virtual presentations at this year’s annual Innovation Forum, researchers demonstrated methods to prevent political gerrymandering, potentially treat currently incurable forms of hepatitis and combat drug-resistant bacteria that cause urinary tract infections.

The winner of the Sept. 29th event was Sujit Datta, assistant professor of chemical and biological engineering, who has developed a technology with the potential to aid the study and treatment of microbes in the gut, the lung, the skin and in soil. He was awarded $15,000 in prize money.

The forum, in its 15th year, adopted a new approach. In addition to a panel of technical presenters, the forum featured a separate set of presentations from researchers in the humanities. This year the forum’s sponsors, the Keller Center for Innovation in Engineering Education and the Office of Technology Licensing, joined with the Princeton Humanities Council to create a new track featuring cultural and societal innovations. Keller Center Director Naveen Verma said “things get dramatically amplified when we come together, and it is these things that push each of us to do better.”

Andrea Goldsmith, dean of the School of Engineering and Applied Science, the combination of science, engineering and the humanities  is key to maximizing benefits for humanity. "I truly believe that collaborations between innovators in STEM and the humanities will be essential to developing technology that significantly benefits society," she said.

The nine STEM innovations, including two from CBE researchers, were presented pitch style, including a short Q&A with judges in research and industry-related fields.

  • Chao Yan, a research associate in mechanical and aerospace engineering, presented his venture to combat environmental waste associated with lithium-ion batteries. 
  • Maryam Elfeki, a postdoctoral fellow in chemistry, spoke about her patented platform for high-throughput screening technology of molecules that can activate "silent" genes, enabling the discovery of novel biological products. (Second-place winner)
  • Erik Gilson, a principal research physicist from the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory, explained his patented centrifuge technology that enhances the separation of liquids, including isolating sub-micron-sized particles could not previously be efficiently separated. (Third-place winner)
  • A cognitive scientist from the School of Business at Stevens Institute of Technology, Jordan Suchow, developed software in partnership with Princeton University that allows for the easy manipulation of social trait information in hyper-realistic face images.
  • Molecular Biology's Alexander Ploss, an associate professor, presented a treatment that can efficiently combat acute and chronic hepatitis B and E viruses; this innovation has the potential to help over 300 million people worldwide.
  • Dalton Conley, Henry Putnam University Professor in Sociology, designed a virtual slider for online rating of sites and applications. Rather than making it just as easy to give one star, three stars, or five stars, Conley's widget imposes a rising cost to deviating from the middle, improving the quality of the information received.
  • Ph.D. candidate in chemical and biological engineering Cathy Tang developed a solution to treat drug-tolerant bacteria that cause urinary tract infections and to reduce these infections' common recurrence .
  • Caleb Bastian a visiting scientist in the Program in Applied and Computational Mathematics, created a plan to manage world heritage sites by treating them as persons, using medical ethics and comprehensive treatment planning, to restore form and function and maintain and institutionalize sites.
  • Sujit Datta, assistant professor of chemical and biological engineering, pitched his platform that enables microbial cells to be arranged—in any desired 3D structure, with any community composition—within a porous matrix having tunable properties. The technology, PoreBiome, has potential to aid the study and treatment of microbes in the gut, the lung, the skin and in soil. (First-place winner )

screen shot of first place winner Sujit Datta with Cornelia Huellstrunk and Innovation Forum title card
Sujit Datta, assistant professor of chemical and biological engineering, took first place for his technology, PoreBiome, that could treat microbes in the gut, the lungs, the skin and in soil. Image courtesy of the Keller Center

The STEM projects were judged by a diverse panel of technology experts and seasoned entrepreneurs with substantial experience within commercial, government and non-profit environments.

  • Lynn Bleil - board director of Stericycle Inc., Sonova Holding AG and Amicus Therapeutics
  • Linda Brown - former chair and current advisory board member, NJ Economic Development Authority NJ Bioscience Center Incubator
  • Nena Golubovic - physical sciences director, IP Group
  • Todd Laurence - managing director, Thimble Peak Advisors
  • Aaron Price - CEO, TechUnited:NJ
  • Anita Sands - James Wei Visiting Professor in Entrepreneurship 2020-2021

Organizers said the presentations highlighted the importance of the entire university community’s commitment to work together for societal improvement.

"This marriage or merger of world-class science and engineering with the liberal arts and social sciences, embodied by this new Innovation Forum, is what makes innovation at Princeton unique," said Rodney Priestly, Princeton's vice dean for innovation and a professor of chemical and biological engineering.