Rothberg Catalyzer Award supports innovative Miami Engineering students

Announcing the first cohort of Rothberg Catalyzer Award winners at Miami Engineering
Rothberg Catalyzer Award supports innovative Miami Engineering students
Roma Williams; Samiul Amin, professor of practice in the Department of Chemical, Environmental, and Materials Engineering; Collette Thomas; Rivaldo Harris; and Matthew Giammanco. (Photo/Eva Hart)

Dr. Jonathan Rothberg, scientist and entrepreneur, has given a gift to the College of Engineering to create the Miami Engineering Rothberg Catalyzer Award.

This annual award will support undergraduate and graduate students conducting biotechnology projects. The goal is to spur entrepreneurship and product development to meet local, regional, and global challenges. Teams of students working on cross-disciplinary projects will be selected through an open competition. The students will receive funding and mentoring support to further develop their concepts, refine their prototypes, or develop and build products.

The first cohort of 13 teams receiving the Catalyzer Award were selected in Spring 2023. They will receive the generous support of $5,000 per team to push their innovative projects forward leading up to the College’s Pitch Competition and the Senior Design Expo on May 2, 2023. Teams seek to tackle problems ranging from real-time detection of airborne pathogens to stroke cognitive rehabilitation to developing devices to detect cervical cancer early or help those who are visually impaired navigate complex environments.

Rothberg Catalyzer Award recipients are mentored by two faculty leads: Suhrud Rajguru, professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering, and Samiul Amin, professor of practice in the Department of Chemical, Environmental, and Materials Engineering.

On the impact this award has in the engineering field, Rajuguru said, “This award and support for students by Dr. Rothberg and 4Catalyzer is truly a recognition of the College of Engineering’s growing impact and its cross-disciplinary focus on developing technologies and solutions. I am beyond excited for our entrepreneurial, bright students as they will be connected with resources and mentoring enabling them to move their technologies and research to benefit communities and people.”

Meet three student teams from our first cohort

Top row: Samiul Amin, professor of practice in the Department of Chemical, Environmental, and Materials Engineering; Rivaldo Harris; Collette Thomas; Matthew Giammanco; and Suhrud Rajguru, professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering. Bottom row: Joy Jackson, Erin Ravindran, Kailyn Nuñez, and Roma Williams.

Roma Williams, Collette Thomas, Rivaldo Harris, and Matthew Giammanco formed HPWe to develop a convenient, inexpensive at-home test to detect HPV and cervical cancer. The students working with mentors in biomedical engineering, public health, and The Gordon Center are combining technology for image capture and analysis and swab-based testing for the purpose and plans to bring this to benefit women in underserved areas.

Tiago De Almeida Graff, Joshua Bruce, Mark Yeo, Isaiah Grant, and Caleb Heathershaw formed Unight to work with experts in sleep disorders and machine learning to build a device and quantitative approach for characterizing sleep disorders. Their product records and analyzes patient’s brain electrical activity to provide an important indicator of the number of arousals during one’s sleep and aims to provide monitoring of treatment effectiveness.

Joy Jackson, Kailyn Nuñez, and Erin Ravindran formed JollEKids to work with clinical mentors in the Department of Pediatrics to design a noninvasive approach to monitoring respiratory rate for premature infants in the neonatal intensive care unit. Both full-term and preterm newborns are susceptible to respiratory issues arising from underdeveloped lungs or difficulty transitioning to breathing outside of the womb. The team has developed a device that enables NICU personnel to non-invasively monitor respiration rate while avoiding motion and other artifacts.

“This is a very exciting time for the College of Engineering,” said Amin. “The mentoring and resources provided through the collaboration with Dr. Rothberg and 4Catalyzer is a tremendous opportunity for our Biotech students to fully realize the potential of their very innovative technical solutions in solving leading edge biotech challenges and having a direct impact on society. This collaboration will play a critical role in further enhancing the innovation and start-up ecosystem through the College of Engineering and widely across the University of Miami."

How did the Rothberg Catalyzer Award start?

Dr. Rothberg is a biotech pioneer, joining the National Academy of Engineering in 2004 and earning the National Medal of Technology and Innovation in 2016 for inventing and commercializing high-speed DNA sequencing. He’s founded multiple companies focused on improving the lives of patients.

Through the Rothberg Catalyzer Award, he has generously supported the goals of student teams at Carnegie Mellon University, University of Pennsylvania, and Yale University.

“I've spent my career building disruptive solutions to improve the lives of those I love,” Dr. Rothberg said on a recent earnings call.