Harishankar Manikantan Receives National Science Foundation CAREER Award

Harishankar Manikantan

Assistant Professor of Chemical Engineering Harishankar Manikantan has received a National Science Foundation Faculty Early Career Development, or NSF CAREER, Award.  

The CAREER Award is offered to early-career faculty who demonstrate the potential to act as academic role models in research and education by performing innovative research at the forefront of their field and through their commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion in STEM.  

"This award is a huge validation of my group's ideas, of initial uncertainties, and of years of hard work," Manikantan said. "I am honored that a novel research direction that my group has carved is being recognized as impactful and worth supporting at this level by my peers. We can continue pushing the frontier of this field with the support of this award." 

Manikantan's research group studies complex fluid dynamics and transport phenomena, using advances in imaging and micro-manipulation to build a fundamental knowledge of the flow physics of soft materials — or materials consisting of polymers, droplets, or microscopic particles suspended in a liquid medium — to solve fundamental problems that arise in biophysical transport and in the processing of formulated chemical products.  

These microscopic particles are embedded in the interface between two fluids and are central to many biological and engineering processes. For instance, the fluid dynamics of those particles manage the transport of proteins in cell membranes or respiratory particulate matter on lung linings.  

In synthetic systems, Manikantan's team has identified key fluid dynamics insights that help design and tune synthetic drug delivery vehicles that mimic natural cells. 

"Isolated, 'simple' particles in 'simple' interfaces are well studied," Manikantan said, "but a rigorous theoretical and computational platform to capture large-scale fluid interactions of realistic particle shapes in complex crowded monolayers or membranes that represent many real systems is still lacking. With this project, we aim to fill these theoretical and computational gaps."  

Manikantan plans to develop tools that will enable the creative design of functionalized, self-assembled materials on bilayers, monolayers, biofilms, and polymer membranes, going beyond the limitations of traditional interfacial engineering.  

As part of his CAREER award, Manikantan will create a cohort program focused on supporting underrepresented transfer students into the chemical engineering department. Participants in the program will build and disseminate open-source, interactive instruction modules that teach instructors and students coding principles used in chemical engineering.    

In 2021, Manikantan was also named to the UC Davis Society of Hellman Fellows, an award that recognizes early-career faculty members for the potential for great distinction in their research.  

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