Schmidt Science Fellows funds graduate student Kurt Ristroph in pivot from global health to food security

Monday, Jun 14, 2021
by Scott Lyon

The Schmidt Science Fellows named two Princeton graduate students — Sebastian Musslick and Kurt Ristroph — to its 2021 cohort of researchers, providing each with up to two years of training and a $100,000 annual stipend. Musslick and Ristroph will earn their Ph.D.s and transition to postdoctoral positions this year.

The fellowships offer early-career scientists and engineers the chance at an "interdisciplinary pivot in their research," according to the organization's statement. This year's cohort includes 28 researchers from a broad range of backgrounds working on problems such as future pandemics, water and food security and the climate crisis.

Ristroph, a graduate student in chemical and biological engineering, will turn from global health to food security applications. Using the approaches he developed to improve drugs that treat malaria and tuberculosis, Ristroph hopes to address agricultural problems such as crop disease and pests. During his fellowship, he will study ecology and environmental science to understand how the kinds of nanoparticles he developed to encapsulate human medicine flow through soil, water, plants and animals. With that expertise at hand, he plans to formulate safe, cheap and effective crop treatments.

Ristroph joined Princeton in 2016 from Lousiana State University, where he earned degrees in chemical engineering and classical civilization. He is the recipient of a graduate research fellowship from the National Science Foundation, a Wallace Memorial Fellowship, and an Award for Excellence from the School of Engineering and Applied Science.

Musslick, a graduate student in neuroscience, will study machine learning techniques to apply to automating emperical research in the behavioral sciences.

"I'm eager to witness how these fellows continue to push the conventional boundaries of science in the years ahead," said Eric Schmidt, one of the program's co-founders, in the announcement. Schmidt is a Princeton alumnus and was formerly the CEO of Google. He and Wendy Schmidt created the fellowships through the Schmidt Futures initiative in partnership with the Rhodes Trust. This is the fourth Schmidt Science Fellows cohort.