Senior David Amelemah awarded Labouisse Prize for international civic engagement project

Written by
Pooja Makhijani, Princeton Institute for International and Regional Studies
May 10, 2023

Princeton CBE senior David Amelemah has been awarded the Henry Richardson Labouisse ’26 Prize to pursue an international civic engagement project for one year following graduation. He will study messenger RNA for global health applications.

Two other Princeton undergraduates, Zachariah Sippy and Jack Thompson, were also awarded the prize.

three male undergraduates smile at the camera

Princeton University seniors (left to right) Zachariah Sippy, Jack Thompson and David Amelemah have been awarded the Henry Richardson Labouisse ’26 Prize to pursue international civic engagement projects for one year following graduation. Photo by Adena Stevens

The Labouisse Prize, which awards $35,000 to each recipient, enables graduating seniors to engage in a project that exemplifies the life and work of Henry Richardson Labouisse, a 1926 Princeton alumnus who was a diplomat, international public servant, and champion for the causes of international justice and international development. Labouisse’s daughter Anne Peretz and family established the prize in 1984. It is administered by the Princeton Institute for International and Regional Studies (PIIRS).

“Princeton alumnus Henry M. Labouisse ’26 was a leader of the great global generation that defeated fascism and ended colonialism,” said Emmanuel Kreike, professor of history and chair of the Labouisse selection committee. “Today, ultra-nationalist and racist populism call for a resurrection of old constraints on transnational and international mobility and the need for future leaders to live, work, and research in the service of humanity is perhaps more urgent than ever before.”

Amelemah will spend his fellowship year in the lab of Greg Warr, professor of chemistry and the University of Sydney in an attempt to understand a messenger RNA processing method called post-loading through two advanced laboratory techniques: small angle x-ray scattering and small angle neutron scattering. “Post-loading can reduce vaccine costs, increase accessibility to underdeveloped economies, and enable flexibility in the vaccine-creating process by eliminating the cold chain requirement,” Amelemah said.

As an undergraduate, Amelemah worked under the tutelage of Robert K. Prud'homme, professor of chemical and biological engineering, pioneering a novel technique to load lipid nanoparticles with mRNA in a process that would eliminate the need for cold-chain handling of current mRNA COVID vaccines. Amelemah’s research provided the basic data for his Labouisse proposal. “This collaboration will break new ground in understanding the internal structure of mRNA lipid nanoparticles and changes occurring between unloaded and loaded samples,” Prud'homme said. “The end result will be a fundamental understanding that will enable use of mRNA lipid nanoparticles for global health.”

Medical research has been a long-standing interest of Amelemah’s and hopes to pursue a Ph.D. in biological engineering. “I want to join the pharmaceutical industry or become an academic who collaborates with industry like my senior thesis advisor, [Professor Prud’homme],” he said. “I have wondered why I am drawn to research even though it does not seem lucrative. Time and time again, I realize that it is because I want my impact to travel farther than I ever could.”

Amelemah is also a triple jumper on the men’s varsity track and field team and a senator for Princeton’s chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers.