Mehdi Javanmard, an associate professor in the School of Engineering Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) has received a two-year, $500,000 Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Young Faculty Award (YFA). The award also includes a $500,000 option phase for a third year.
“This DARPA YFA is the second such award in successive years in the ECE department and, along with eight active NSF CAREER awards reflects the phenomenal successes of our young faculty members,” says ECE distinguished professor and chair, and Rutgers WINLAB assistant director Narayan Mandayam.
Javanmard’s project, “Lab-on-a-Microparticle: Injectable Wirelessly Powered Label-free Nanowell Sensors for In Vivo Quantification of Protein and Small Molecules” will make a new type of wirelessly powered tiny sensors able to map and monitor markers and various molecules in tissues and wounds.
“Winning the DARPA Young Faculty Award is a great honor for me at a very exciting time in my career,” says Javanmard, who was a 2019 recipient of a National Science Foundation CAREER Award. “I will get to think out of the box and work on a very high-risk but high-reward project for healthcare.”
Established to incubate the next generation of scientists, mathematicians, and engineers who will spend significant time and energy on Department of Defense (DoD) and national security issues, the prestigious DARPA YFA Award is presented to talented young faculty in the early stage of their academic careers. Javanmard’s DARPA Award – which provides funding, mentoring, and access to industry and DoD contacts – will expose him to both DoD needs as well as to the DARPA program development process.
According to Javanmard, over the last few decades, the DoD has invested heavily in new biosensing and medical diagnostic technologies that benefit the health and wellbeing of all members of society. “This can include rapid detection of infectious agents like COVID-19, treating and monitoring wounds with smart bandages, and even monitoring and treating chronic diseases such as cancer, gastrointestinal diseases, and rheumatoid arthritis,” he explains.
Javanmard, who views healthcare access as one of the leading challenges of the 21st century, seeks to apply his engineering knowledge and skill to create innovative, interdisciplinary solutions to pressing healthcare problems. “With the coronavirus pandemic, as a society we have learned about the need for more innovative diagnostic tools – and that the current centralized lab model of testing is simply inadequate to serve society’s needs. As a result, the economic loss for this country alone will be trillions of dollars.”
“The idea that our inventions in the lab can be used to save lives and improve the quality of life of patients, really makes me excited,” he says. “We hope we can make better tools for more rapid and inexpensive diagnosis of diseases in order to make healthcare more accessible to the broader population.”
For Javanmard, students will play a critical role in this research. “Students are our most valuable and precious resource. They go into the lab and design, fabricate, and test devices and analyze the results,” he insists. ”We can only achieve great things with the heavy involvement of our students.”