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2023-25 MIT Postdoctoral Fellowship Program for Engineering Excellence cohort announced

Thirteen postdocs join program that emphasizes community and prioritizes professional development.
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Group photo of Dean Anantha Chandrakasan with 12 postdocs
The 2023-25 MIT Postdoctoral Fellowship Program for Engineering Excellence cohort stand with Dean Anantha Chandrakasan (third from left, standing).
Photo: Jodi Hilton
10 Fellows are pictured sitting or standing around tables and enjoying refreshments
MIT Postdoctoral Fellowship Program for Engineering Excellence Fellows pictured at their fall orientation.
Photo: Jodi Hilton

The School of Engineering welcomed 13 fellows to the MIT Postdoctoral Fellowship Program for Engineering Excellence for the 2023-25 academic year. Through the program, they will deepen their training and develop research independence as they explore options for the next phase of their careers.

Launched in 2021, the program seeks to discover and develop the next generation of leaders to help guide the School of Engineering toward a more diverse and inclusive culture. Strengthened by the School of Engineering’s academic departments, the Daniel J. Riccio Graduate Engineering Leadership Program, and the Martin Center Trust for MIT Entrepreneurship, the program offers a range of professional development opportunities along three career paths: academic, engineering leadership, and entrepreneurship.

The 2023-25 MIT Postdoctoral Fellows are:

Moala Keshei Bannavti is a Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering Distinguished Postdoctoral Fellow whose research aims to address environmental injustice and inequities through interdisciplinary environmental science. Specifically, Bannavti’s doctoral work focused on air quality in public schools — an understudied part of the built environment — and developing new approaches to remediate airborne, semivolatile organic compounds in low-income, minority-predominant public schools. As a postdoc, she will continue her explorations of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB) emissions, which have been linked to many diseases, including diabetes, respiratory diseases, and neurodevelopmental disorders, with a focus on the contamination of outdoor air surrounding Superfund sites like the Neponset River.

Elana Ben-Akiva is an MIT-Northpond Distinguished Postdoctoral Fellow whose research focuses on leveraging biomaterials engineering approaches to activate or suppress the body’s natural defense mechanisms to treat various diseases, including cancer and infectious diseases. The primary aims of her postdoc research will be to investigate saponin-based nanoparticle adjuvants in combination with toll-like receptor agonists and engineering novel adjuvants for HIV vaccination and to develop lipid nanoparticles with enhanced adjuvant activity and delivery properties to improve the efficacy of RNA-based HIV vaccines and cancer immunotherapies.

Shaniel Bowen is a School of Engineering Distinguished Postdoctoral Fellow whose research concerns the pathogenesis, diagnosis, and treatment of pelvic floor disorders and, more broadly, improving women’s health and health equity. In her doctoral research, Bowen designed a study on racial disparity in women’s health research, characterizing age and racial diversity in normal pelvic anatomy in adult women and beginning to build an open-access repository of demographic/MRI data of a diverse cohort. Ancillary analyses of this study population led to her foundational studies of the clitoris and its correlation with sexual function in patients after vaginal surgery. As a postdoc, Bowen will continue to study the clitoris and its supporting structures in diverse populations.

Farhana Easmin is an MIT-Northpond Distinguished Postdoctoral Fellow in genomic engineering whose work is focused on genome editing and explorations of genome function and breeding, with the goal of building creative solutions to environmental and human health challenges. In her doctoral research, Easmin developed rapid and versatile genome editing tools for the creation of genome diversity in yeast. As a postdoc, Easmin will apply her experience in yeast genome engineering to environmental bioremediation, specifically the bioremediation of heavy metals and PFAS.

Michael Hagenow is an MIT-Boeing Distinguished Postdoctoral Fellow whose research focuses on creating effective and flexible systems for human-robot teaming across a range of applications, with a particular interest in methods for shared autonomy and robot skill acquisition. In his doctoral research, he investigated new approaches for robot behavior acquisition. As a postdoc, Hagenow will continue to pursue innovative techniques that combine iterative learning and human‐in‐the‐loop interactions to further the adoption of collaborative robots.

Ronald Henry Heisser is a School of Engineering Distinguished Postdoctoral Fellow in biohybrid robotics whose work integrates his interests in mechanics and design to study and rationalize machine design principles for systems that bridge micro- and macro-scales. Heisser’s doctoral work centered on using combustion to produce high-power motion in millimeter-scale soft actuators, ultimately enabling him to develop a novel, refreshable Braille display system that is potentially more compact and lower cost than existing Braille technologies. As a postdoc, he will focus on the development of new mechanical components for micro-actuation systems and stretchable interfaces.

Juanita Hidalgo is a School of Engineering Distinguished Postdoctoral Fellow whose research is focused on materials for photovoltaic and other optoelectronic applications for sustainable energy. As a doctoral candidate, Hidalgo studied hybrid halide perovskite thin films, which are of interest for use in solar cells, and developed deep expertise in the structure at the surface and bulk of lead halide perovskites using different in-situ X-ray scattering techniques. This work yielded valuable new insights into perovskite solar cells and will have a notable impact on efforts to commercialize this emerging solar cell technology. In her postdoc research, she will apply her expertise in in-situ X-ray characterization to the exploration of other electrochemical materials and interface systems relevant to sustainable energy.

Jeong Hee “Jenn” Kim is a School of Engineering Distinguished Postdoctoral Fellow whose research is focused on developing novel techniques for cell and biomolecule monitoring and characterization for many biomedical applications, including diagnostics and treatments. Specifically, Kim is applying deep learning-powered Raman spectroscopy — a light scattering technique that probes a unique molecular fingerprint — to integrate accurate, rapid, and noninvasive molecular-level investigation within the existing clinical pipeline and research settings. Her postdoc research will focus on optimizing this model, with the goal of developing a high-throughput platform combined with a deep learning model. 

Sumin Kim is a Koch Institute Distinguished Postdoctoral Fellow whose research focuses on 3D genome organization and gene regulation. In her doctoral research, she pioneered quantitative super-resolution imaging techniques to explore cellular mechanisms underlying DYT1 dystonia, a neurodevelopmental disease. In particular, she discovered a novel context of nuclear pore complex (NPC) biogenesis in developing neurons and elucidated the role of torsinA, whose loss of function causes DYT1 dystonia in coordinating NPC assembly and spatial organization. As a postdoc, Kim will use 3D Super-Resolution Live-Cell Imaging to study the dynamics of Polycomb-group proteins and their target genes, which are critical for gene repression and development.

Kiana Naghibzadeh is a School of Engineering Distinguished Postdoctoral Fellow whose research explores the mechanical behavior of natural and architected materials using a combination of theoretical, computational, and experimental approaches. In her doctoral work, she focused on developing multiphysics models to study the dynamics of growth in evolving systems motivated by applications in 3D printing, glacial ablation (a primary driver of sea-level rise), and failure in batteries. As a postdoc, she will continue developing more realistic models and conducting basic experiments to study, predict, and understand the physics of real-world problems in the fields of biomechanics and advanced manufacturing.

Crystal E. Owens is a School of Engineering Distinguished Postdoctoral Fellow whose research lies at the intersection of precision manufacturing and complex fluid mechanics. Specifically, Owens seeks to improve manufacturing processes involving polymeric and structured fluids. As a doctoral student, Owens studied ink rheology and developed a direct-write printing technique for carbon nanotube (CNT) based inks, enabling the printing of flexible electronics as sensors. Now, as a postdoc in computational fabrication, she will focus on developing computational methods to design and evaluate new polymers fit for practical applications and develop new fabrication methods to create microarchitected materials from liquid solutions to build a path to better tissue engineering.

Abriana Stewart-Height is a School of Engineering Distinguished Postdoctoral Fellow whose research lies at the intersection of rehabilitation robotics, dynamical systems theory, machine learning, and legged locomotion. She seeks to develop assistive robotics devices that improve the mobility of persons with disabilities to navigate outdoor, unstructured environments. Her doctoral research focused on limb loss recovery in dynamic quadrupedal robots that perform remote operations in challenging environments with the aim of developing a generalized fault recovery strategy consisting of agile bio-inspired fault recovery gaits and a fault diagnosis learning technique. As a postdoc, Stewart-Height will shift her focus to health care robotics.

Jiawei Zhang is a School of Engineering Distinguished Postdoctoral Fellow whose broad research interests include the design and analysis of fundamental optimization algorithms for decision-making, with applications to machine learning, operational research, power engineering, and a wide range of social science challenges in the big-data regime. His doctoral work primarily centered on fundamental optimization and machine learning algorithms. As a postdoc, he will apply this prior work to a host of practical engineering problems. He will also collaborate on projects focused on designing efficient and robust algorithms for sustainable power systems and on fundamental optimization theory.

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