2021 - 2022 Fellows

Rebecca Abergel

Decontamination, Separation, and Radiotherapeutic Strategies for Heavy Metals

nuclear engineering

Therapeutic Interventions for Post-MRI Gadolinium Toxicity

Gadolinium-based contrast agents have been widely used in clinical magnetic resonance imaging - MRI - studies. However, despite their initial safety reputation, serious toxicity issues associated with the use of these agents have emerged in the last several years, with studies demonstrating the release of gadolinium (Gd) and subsequent deposition in bone tissue and in the brain in patients with normal renal function and intact blood-brain barriers. The only practical therapy to reduce the health consequences of gadolinium deposition is treatment with chelating agents that form excretable complexes, although gadolinium, like other heavy metals, is among the most intractable elements to decorporate. Initially driven by the civilian need for post-exposure medical countermeasures against nuclear threats, Rebecca Abergel’s group has pursued the development of small molecular chelators as therapeutics for heavy element decontamination. The lead investigational drug identified in this program will be further developed into a gadolinium removal product, which could be provided as a post-MRI therapeutic or just bundled with contrast agent administration shortly after the MRI procedure. A comprehensive and detailed assessment of past and future patients having received contrast agents will also be conducted to identify clinical and demographic factors that may predispose individuals to Gd retention and/or the onset of related symptoms.

Rebecca Abergel is an Associate Professor of Nuclear Engineering. Her research group studies the chemistry of heavy elements and inorganic isotopes with a variety of applications in clean energy, defense, and public health. She received her B.Sc. from the Ecole Normale Supérieure of Paris, France, and her Ph.D. from UC Berkeley. She joined the UC Berkeley faculty in 2018.

James Analytis

Condensed Matter Physics and Materials Science


Topological Mott Magnonics

Computation, the process of generating information, requires fast electrical manipulation and recall that often relies on non-linear electrical processes of the material platforms, dissipating large amounts of heat. In this proposal, we aim to address this challenge with a new technology that is rooted in the flow of spin that leverages the collective behavior of the electrons rather than the flow of individual particles. The solution we propose leverages a novel class of AFM materials known as Mott insulators (MIs). Spin and charge channels of dissipation are separated in such materials, so that information carried by the spin sector will not diffuse into the electronic sector, with potential to greatly reduce dissipation and enhance processor speeds.

James Analytis is an Associate Professor in UC Berkeley’s Department of Physics. He joined the faculty in January 2013 as the Charles Kittel Chair in condensed matter physics.

Boubacar Kante

Physical Electronics and Energy

electrical engineering and computer sciences

Ultra-Compact lasers for mobility, sensing, and communication

Semiconductor lasers are ubiquitous in today’s electronics/photonics market due to a multitude of applications ranging from on-chip communication, communication across-the-globe internet connectivity, to laser imaging, detection, and ranging (LIDAR). Moreover, future technologies such as self-driving cars, drones, automated robots, and advanced monitoring and sensing systems will also greatly benefit from an ultra-compact laser system. This project aims at developing a multifunctional laser system that can simultaneously tune its emission wavelength, steer its beam, be energy efficient, and be ultracompact. Such a system will immediately find a unique position in the multibillion dollars market represented by applications of lasers. The project will investigate a unique laser system that we recently invented and that we called Bound State in Continuum Surface Emitting Lasers (BICSEL).  BICSELs could become ubiquitous in future technologies in need of lasers because they have the potential to decrease the cost of lasers when produced at large scale while being energy efficient.

Boubacar Kante is the inaugural Chenming Hu endowed Chaired Associate Professor at UC Berkeley’s Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science.

Skin Disease Treatment

Chemistry and biomolecular engineering

Skin probiotics to treat disease

Aging and disease cause damaged, inflamed skin. Multiple factors can cause and aggravate the skin, including protein imbalances, inflammatory cytokines, reactive oxygen species, and harmful bacteria. Conventional topical creams often fail to address these conditions due to the limited lifetime of their active ingredients. After all, our bodies naturally produce compounds to continuously maintain and revitalize our skin. Resvita Biosciences seeks to restore and maintain the vitality of the skin by properly considering the skin microbiome as part of the human body. A harmless skin probiotic will continuously deliver the therapy that a body would to maintain skin health. Simply put, the treatment comes from the outside-in, instead of the inside-out.

Through synthetic biology and metabolic engineering, our goal is to develop a safe and versatile skin microbial platform that can address the causes of skin aging and disease. We have a unique patented approach, a rich product pipeline, clear regulatory advantages, and an experienced scientific management team. Within the next three years, we are confident that we will deliver multiple anti-aging products to market, an IND to treat an orphan skin disease with fast-track FDA designation, and exciting preclinical data to treat multiple inflammatory skin diseases like eczema and psoriasis.

Jay Keasling is a Professor in the Department of Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering and Bioengineering. He is also Senior Faculty Scientist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, and his research interests include metabolic engineering of microorganisms.

Microbial Rare Earth Element Recovery

plant and microbial biology

Bacterial Enhanced Gadolinium Recovery from Clinical Waste and Waste Water

Rare earth elements (REEs) are critical components of clean energy, consumer, and medical technologies with increasing global demand. However, extraction and refinement of REEs from raw materials using current methods is energy-intensive and environmentally destructive. One REE, Gadolinium (Gd), is widely used in the medical industry to generate contrast agents for magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) because of its unparalleled paramagnetic properties. Yet, in free form, Gd is severely toxic to humans. Unmetabolized contrast agents, excreted in the urine, are cause for concern as rising anthropogenic Gd in surface water correlates with increasing annual MRI exams. Currently, there is no effective method to recycle Gd from medical waste or contaminated water. My research group has developed a microbial platform for efficient, bio-safe leaching and recovery of light REEs (e.g. neodymium), from low-grade sources, such as electronic waste, using the model bacterium Methylorubrum extorquens. Recently, we isolated a genetic variant (evo-HLn) of M. extorquens capable of efficient acquisition of heavy (e.g. Gd) instead of light REEs. The variant is so efficient that it can sequester Gd from common MRI contrast agents. We aim to optimize evo-HLn growth conditions using medical waste and contaminated wastewater. Then, we will engineer the strain to increase its capacity for Gd leaching and Gd recovery. Finally, we will translate the process to a bioreactor setup to identify operation parameters at scale. Once tuned for Gd acquisition, our microbial REE recovery platform will recycle the highly valuable Gd and reduce groundwater contamination.

Cecilia Martinez-Gomez is an Assistant Professor of Plant and Microbial Biology. She conducts research in microbial metabolism, particularly one-carbon metabolism, and builds bacterial platforms to help solve environmental issues.

Heavy Metal Decontamination

civil and environmental engineering

2D Nanomaterial-Enabled Technology for Lead Removal from Drinking Water

Point-of-use (POU) filters that can be installed in households to effectively remove heavy metals (e.g. lead) from drinking water are urgently needed considering recent nation-wide outbreaks of lead contamination of drinking water (e.g., Flint MI, Newark NJ). We discovered that two-dimensional (2D) MoS2 nanosheets demonstrate the highest lead removal capabilities among all materials that have ever been reported in the literature. For example, MoS2 exhibits the highest adsorption capacity as well as the strongest selectivity/affinity toward lead, which are a few orders of magnitude higher than other lead adsorption materials. The high selectivity of MoS2 ensures the successful removal of lead without being interfered by other common ions in drinking water. Filters assembled by stacking MoS2 nanosheets exhibit much higher water productivity than typical reverse osmosis membranes while effectively reducing heavy metal concentration from ppm level to less than 10 ppb. It outperforms other state-of-the-art membranes or novel filters made of various new materials. These results demonstrate that the layer-stacked MoS2 filter has great potential as an innovative POU device for lead removal from drinking water.

Dr. Baoxia Mi is Associate Professor in the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department. Her research focuses on advanced membrane processes and nanotechnology to address some challenging issues in sustainable water supply, including desalination, drinking water quality, wastewater reuse, renewable energy production, and public health protection.

3D Printing in Home Architecture


Robotic 3D Printing of Lightweight Roofs for Affordable Housing

Large-scale 3D printing is a revolutionary innovation that is currently gaining global traction as a faster, inexpensive and more efficient way to build affordable housing. On closer inspection, however, most 3D-printed building projects today, reveal a fundamental weakness of the technology, namely the unresolved question of how to print long-span structures such as roofs and floor slabs. To further reduce construction costs and fabricate not only walls but also lightweight and material-efficient roofs using the same 3D printing manufacturing process, Simon Schleicher and his research team developed the novel idea of printing layers of ultra-high performance concrete and other recycled material alternatives directly onto a double-curved, minimal formwork. The innovation here lies in the special technological interplay between robotic non-planar 3D printing and formwork design. By extending the capabilities of architectural 3D printing beyond the common application of vertical walls, and further developing new methods to fabricate long-span roof structures, this research provides an important milestone on the path towards constructing entire houses from the same cost- and material-efficient additive manufacturing process.

Simon Schleicher is an Associate Professor of Architecture. His specializations include Bio-inspired Structures and Kinetic Systems, Bending-active Structures and Advanced Digital Fabrication, 3D Printing of Compliant Mechanisms and Fixtures, and Adaptive Shading Systems for Freeform Glass Facades. He conducts his research through his research group, Design Innovation from Nature.