Five Hot Prospects on the UW Faculty, from Engineering Dean Matt O’Donnell

4/13/09Follow @xconomy

This is the time of year when I look for hot young prospects for my fantasy baseball team. Maybe that’s why it seemed natural to think of Matt O’Donnell, the dean of the University of Washington’s College of Engineering, as being like a baseball general manager. Part of his job is to recruit and develop talented young stars across information technology, biotech, and cleantech, in hopes that a few will blossom into the next Evan Longoria of their field. (For those who don’t follow sports, Longoria is a star third baseman for the Tampa Bay Rays.)

O’Donnell, who was elected into the National Academy of Engineering in February, joined the UW in 2006 from the University of Michigan. He’s a physicist by training who found his niche in sophisticated medical imaging technologies, including ultrasound, optoacoustics, and using catheters with tiny cameras to look inside coronary arteries. So bioengineering is his comfort zone, but as Dean, he oversees 10 different engineering departments, including computer science and materials science.

When I stopped by O’Donnnell’s office last week, I put him on the spot, asking him to name five young talents to watch for the future in IT, biotech, and cleantech. Here’s who he picked:

Suzie Pun

Pun got her doctorate in chemical engineering from Caltech in 2000, and has already gotten some national attention for UW with a Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers in 2006. She was recently granted tenure as a bioengineering professor, O’Donnell says. Pun’s latest research interest, in collaboration with UW’s Patrick Stayton, is in using polymer materials to improve the delivery of biotech drugs into cells, a project that won more than $7 million in support from the state’s Life Sciences Discovery Fund.

This polymer chemistry work holds the potential to solve some of biology’s big problems—how to deliver gene therapy and RNA interference molecules efficiently throughout the body, make them last long enough to work, and get them precisely to the right targets not just on the surface of cells, but inside them where they can be more effective, O’Donnell says. “She’s young, she’s bright, she’s energetic,” O’Donnell says.

Xiaohu Gao

“He’s a brewer,” O’Donnell says. This doesn’t mean Gao plays for the major league team in Milwaukee. It means … Next Page »

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