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Fikile Brushett and Florence Wagner named to Chemical and Engineering News “Talented 12”

MIT affiliates recognized for their innovative approaches to energy storage and drug discovery.
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Professor Fikile Brushett of the MIT Department of Chemical Engineering and Florence Wagner, institute scientist at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, have been selected as two of 2017's “Talented 12” by Chemical and Engineering News (C&EN), the weekly magazine of the American Chemical Society. Brushett is recognized for his innovative approach to economical and sustainable energy storage and the magazine calls him the “Baron of Batteries.” Wagner is the “Drug Discovery Dynamo,” as her work in targeted psychiatric therapies has shown potential to upend the field of psychiatric drug discovery.

Brushett, the Raymond A. (1921) and Helen E. St. Laurent Career Development Professor of Chemical Engineering, is developing new ways of storing energy from sustainable sources such as wind and sunlight. He is particularly interested in understanding and controlling the fundamental processes that define the performance, cost, and lifetime of present day and next-generation electrochemical systems. His laboratory is presently pursuing research on redox flow batteries for grid storage and on electrochemical upgrading of low-value feedstocks. As described by C&EN, “a major focus of his lab is understanding how chemical structure affects the function of redox active molecules, with the goal of expanding the toolbox for engineering batteries. In addition, his lab is developing new electrochemical reactors to improve battery performance.”

Wagner, director of the medicinal chemistry group in the Broad’s Stanley Center for Psychiatric Research, focuses on designing and implementing strategies that will enable development of novel therapeutic strategies for central nervous system-related psychiatric disorders, such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, autism, and neurodevelopmental disorders. These strategies include the rational design and development of novel, potent, and highly selective small molecules suitable for clinical development and the development of translatable biomarkers. C&EN explains, “Recently, Wagner and her colleagues developed molecules that can selectively inhibit each of the two forms of an enzyme called glycogen synthase kinase 3 (GSK3), a possible target of the bipolar disorder treatment lithium. Previous inhibitors out of industry hit both forms of GSK3 and caused serious side effects in human studies. Wagner and her colleagues showed that selectively inhibiting either of the two forms avoided that toxicity in cells.”

To find its annual Talented 12, C&EN called on a panel of industry advisers, C&EN’s advisory board, and Talented 12 alumni to nominate prospects aged 42 or younger who are pushing the boundaries in their fields. They also accepted nominations from readers through an online form. Finally, they researched and evaluated the more than 150 candidates amassed during this process to zero in on the 12 most "path-paving" individuals.

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