New Bioengineering Ph.D. program harnesses ‘uniquely collaborative’ community

Written by
Wright Seneres
Nov. 13, 2023

Princeton University has launched a Ph.D. program in bioengineering for students who want to unlock fundamental discoveries in the life sciences and apply engineering principles to pressing human needs.

“Bioengineering at Princeton is rapidly growing and uniquely collaborative,” said Clifford P. Brangwynne, Princeton’s June K. Wu ’92 Professor of Chemical and Biological Engineering, a Howard Hughes Investigator and the director of the Omenn-Darling Bioengineering Institute, the home of the new program. “The new bioengineering program is organized around a vibrant community that crosses traditional disciplinary boundaries, with research focusing on cellular, device, and computational bioengineering all under one roof.”

Through mentorship and collaboration, doctoral students learn to push the boundaries of their fields. Through support for entrepreneurship and engagement with industry, students learn to have an impact on the broader world.

Tools from engineering enable basic discoveries, Brangwynne said, and those discoveries yield not only advances for health and the environment but also lead to the development of new technologies to explore yet deeper scientific questions. This bridge between foundational science and useful innovation is central to bioengineering at Princeton.

For example, Jared Toettcher, associate professor of molecular biology and deputy director of the institute, asks fundamental questions about how cells move, grow, and die. His lab maps the flow of information that directs these behaviors, investigates how that flow is disrupted in disease, and develops methods to control such processes.

Jerelle Joseph, assistant professor of chemical and biological engineering, designs computer simulations to understand how liquid compartments form, without membranes, while maintaining their functions within the soupy interior of living cells. Her work has a range of implications, including a deeper understanding of both healthy cell function and the cellular origins of disorders such as ALS and Alzheimer’s disease.

Tian-Ming Fu, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering, develops bioimaging and bioelectronics technologies to visualize and manipulate living cells and organisms in 3D. Examples of his work include the development of microscopy and optics to map neurons and cancer metastasis.

Mark Brynildsen, professor of chemical and biological engineering, combines computational and experimental biology, with a focus on developing new antibiotics that overcome the growing problem of drug resistance.

The program will also connect faculty and researchers from the Departments of Chemistry, Civil and Environmental Engineering, Computer Science, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, and Physics, as well as the Princeton Neuroscience Institute, Lewis-Sigler Institute of Integrative Genomics and the Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment. See the full list of faculty at the institute’s website.

“Our graduate program is focused on hands-on training,” said Daniel Cohen, the program’s director of graduate studies and an assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering whose “cell herding” lab uses bioelectricity and biomaterials to make large groups of cells do useful things such as heal. “Our vision of promoting diverse perspectives and ideas allows us to train the next generation of bioengineering leaders and explorers who can bridge different communities to make an impact on society.” Cohen said students will be encouraged to follow their research wherever it leads, whether that is more foundational discoveries or the real-world applications that arise from them.

The program and the Institute will move into a specially designed building in 2025 in the new environmental sciences and engineering neighborhood. In addition to cutting-edge imaging tools, students in the bioengineering program will have access to a wide range of resources, including a dynamic ecosystem of innovation and entrepreneurship programs on campus that can help amplify the impact of the Institute’s research.

Princeton University’s stipend for graduate students is among the highest in the nation. The University fully funds all Ph.D. students, offering generous tailored support across all years of regular program enrollment. The graduate student experience at Princeton encompasses campus housing, a health plan and benefits, family care assistance, and a wide range of student life programs and traditions that welcome all to participate in the diverse and inclusive Graduate School community.

The program is now welcoming applicants for the 2024-2025 school year. To join the inaugural class, applicants should apply directly to the Bioengineering Program through the Princeton University Graduate School by Dec. 1, 2023.