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NSF BRITE Fellows to explore diverse, bold engineering research ideas

Conceptualization inspired by bone of a living material populated by cells

One day, living structural materials populated by cells could grow or heal.


March 31, 2022

The U.S. National Science Foundation awarded engineering research grants to explore sustainable cultured meat, design living materials that can replace load-carrying engineering materials, and 3-D printed microscale human organs-on-a-chip.

Funded through the NSF Boosting Research Ideas for Transformative and Equitable Advances in Engineering (BRITE) program, the 5-year BRITE Fellow grants provide up to $1 million per project. The NSF BRITE program is funded by NSF Division of Civil, Mechanical and Manufacturing Innovation (CMMI) in the NSF Engineering Directorate.

“NSF created the BRITE Fellows opportunity to support proven researchers who have a high-risk vision with the potential for high reward for the Nation,” said CMMI Division Director Robert Stone. “We anticipate that the research of the BRITE Fellows will create new fields, challenge current paradigms, or present unconventional approaches to intractable problems.”

The three NSF BRITE Fellow awards for FY 2022 are:

  • Rigid engineered living materials, Cornell University: Principal Investigator Christopher Hernandez will investigate fundamental scientific approaches needed to insert biological cells such as bacteria into structural engineering materials, such as plastics, metals, and ceramics, in order to engineer “living materials.” Living materials could have the ability to grow, heal, or exhibit other biological traits. In the future, vehicles, buildings, and commercial products that incorporate living materials could have vastly improved performance and lower financial and environmental costs.
  • Systems-level mechanobiology from the cellular mechanome to sustainable meat production, University of California, Los Angeles: Principal Investigator Amy Rowat will investigate mechanical aspects of tissue engineering to develop efficient, sustainable engineering methods to grow animal protein for foods. She will study how cells sense and respond to mechanical stimuli, regulate their mechanical properties, and interact mechanically with tissue engineering scaffolds, which may influence the sensory and nutritional properties of cultured meat. 
  • Intelligent Nanoscale 3D Biomanufacturing Towards Human-on-a-Chip, University of California, San Diego: Principal Investigator Shaochen Chen will create a nanoscale biomanufacturing platform powered by artificial intelligence that can serve as a functional, three-dimensional model of human tissues, organs and systems. This “human-on-a-chip” could transform regenerative medicine and tools for disease modeling, drug screening, environmental studies and other applications.

“We are excited to see how each BRITE Fellow’s blue-sky vision will shape the future of their fields and the potential for future societal impacts,” said Nakhiah Goulbourne, lead NSF program director for BRITE.

In addition to the three Fellow awards, the NSF BRITE program funded projects in three other tracks — supporting nine Pivot, four Relaunch, and seven Synergy awards — for a total investment of $12.4 million in FY 2022; approximately $3 million in NSF BRITE funding came from the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (Public Law 117-2).

NSF BRITE award research topics span many CMMI interests, such as fuel cell efficiency, housing resilience, and graphene manufacturing. See a full list of NSF BRITE awards

The NSF BRITE opportunity is offered again for FY 2023; the deadline for proposals is April 25, 2022.

The NSF Division of Civil, Mechanical and Manufacturing Innovation advances the future of manufacturing, the design of innovative materials and building technologies, infrastructure resilience and sustainability, and tools and systems for decision-making, robotics and controls.

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Media Contacts 
Media Affairs, NSF, (703) 292-7090, media@nsf.gov 

Related Websites
NSF Boosting Research Ideas for Transformative and Equitable Advances in Engineering (BRITE) program:  https://beta.nsf.gov/funding/opportunities/nsf-boosting-research-ideas-transformative-and-equitable-advances-engineering 
NSF Division of Civil, Mechanical and Manufacturing Innovation: https://www.nsf.gov/div/index.jsp?div=CMMI

The U.S. National Science Foundation propels the nation forward by advancing fundamental research in all fields of science and engineering. NSF supports research and people by providing facilities, instruments and funding to support their ingenuity and sustain the U.S. as a global leader in research and innovation. With a fiscal year 2022 budget of $8.8 billion, NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 colleges, universities and institutions. Each year, NSF receives more than 40,000 competitive proposals and makes about 11,000 new awards. Those awards include support for cooperative research with industry, Arctic and Antarctic research and operations, and U.S. participation in international scientific efforts.

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