Annual Jeffrey Hubbell and Melody Swartz Young Bioengineer Award

Annual award introduced in 2014 to recognize junior members of IBI-associated labs qualifying as “exceptional young bioengineers showing potential to become part of a new generation of leaders of the discipline, fusing biology with engineering, physics, chemistry or mathematics.” (quote from Call for Applications).

Initially called the ‘Future Leaders in Bioengineering Award’, renamed (end of 2016) ‘Jeffrey Hubbell and Melody Swartz Young Bioengineer Award’, the award earns its recipient an amount of 1’000 Swiss Francs in prize money.

The new and lasting name of the award was chosen to honor the IBI’s founding Director Jeffrey A. Hubbell (in office: Oct. 1, 2003 – Sept. 30, 2012), and his direct successor Melody A. Swartz (in office: Oct. 1, 2012 – April 30, 2014) as both were leaving the EPFL in December 2016, headed for new academic horizons. It stands as a modest token of the IBI’s immense appreciation of their priceless contribution in building the institute and leading it to remarkable stature in little more than a decade.

Profs J. Hubbell and M. Swartz | © EPFL
Profs J. Hubbell and M. Swartz | © D. Reinhard 2016
2022 Award

Applications are now invited from postdocs and advanced Ph.D. students.

Submissions from eligible candidates, as defined in the 2022 Call (see below), should be emailed in single file pdf format to Institute Manager Dietrich Reinhard

by Sunday, November 6, 2022 (midnight, CET).


All relevant details are given in the official Call document, which is available here:

2022 Call (‘.docx’ download, 134 kB)


Chan Cao and Fabian Sesterhenn | 2020 Award winners | © EPFL 2020
Chan Cao (left) and Fabian Sesterhenn (right) | 2020 Award winners | © EPFL 2020

For the first time this year, the Hubbell-Swartz Award Jury, put before a near impossible choice between two equally strong candidates, has decided to exceptionally crown not one, but two laureates.

Chan Cao, postdoctoral researcher in Matteo Dal Peraro’s Laboratory for Biomolecular Modeling (LBM), wins a 2020 ‘Jeffrey Hubbell and Melody Swartz Young Bioengineer Awards with a Bioengineering Day presentation titled “Decoding Informational Polymer by Engineered Biological Nanopores”.

Cao, an applied chemist trained at the East China University of Science and Technology in Shanghai, China (B.Sc. Degree in 2013), did her Ph.D. (awarded March 2017) in Prof. Yitao Long’s Key Laboratory for Advanced Materials, at the same Department. In her doctoral and post-doctoral research, Cao has made groundbreaking discoveries in the area of biological nanopores, which have led to first-author papers in high profile journals such as Science Advance, Nature Communications or Small. She has also co-authored two patents translating parts of this new knowledge into biotechnology and information technology applications. Already a Marie Skłodowska-Curie Postdoctoral Fellow, a Peter and Traudl Engelhorn and a Synapsis Foundation Fellow, Chan Cao will be starting an independent EPFL research group as an SNSF PRIMA Fellow in 2021.

Fabian Sesterhenn, formerly Ph.D. student, then postdoctoral researcher, in Bruno Correia’s Laboratory of Protein Design & Immunoengineering (LPDI), wins a 2020 ‘Jeffrey Hubbell and Melody Swartz Young Bioengineer Award’ with a Bioengineering Day presentation titled “Toward a New Age of Precision Vaccines Through Computationally Designed Proteins”.

Sesterhenn, holder of B.Sc. and M.Sc. degrees in Molecular Medicine from the Albert-Ludwigs-University in Freiburg, Germany, joined the Correia Lab as doctoral student in October 2015, where he obtained his Ph.D. in 2019. His research efforts, aimed at engineering targeted vaccines and diagnostics beyond the natural protein repertoire, have led to important biomedical developments such as a cocktail of computationally designed immunogens eliciting virus neutralizing antibodies in primates, computationally designed de novo proteins with complex structural motifs, which are functional as biosensors for the detection of epitope-specific antibodies in serum, or the identification of a promising application of epitope-focused immunogens to boost neutralizing antibodies under conditions of pre-existing immunity. Over the past two years, these findings have led to first-author papers (published or accepted) in Science, Nature Chemical Biology and PLoS Biology, as well as two patents. As his next career step, Fabian Sesterhenn is joining the lab of Paola Picotti at the ETH Zurich’s Institute of Molecular Systems Biology, for postdoctoral research.

2020 Award finalists Dora Mahečić and Mike Nikolaev | © EPFL 2020
2020 Award finalists Dora Mahečić (left) and Mike Nikolaev (right) | © EPFL 2020

All four finalists were invited to give a talk at the annual EPFL Bioengineering Day that took place online on November 12, 2020:

Chan Cao (Postdoc in the Dal Peraro Lab): “Decoding Informational Polymer by Engineered Biological Nanopores

Fabian Sesterhenn (formerly Ph.D. student, then Postdoc, in the Correia Lab): “Toward a New Age of Precision Vaccines Through Computationally Designed Proteins

Dora Mahečić (freshly graduated Ph.D. student, Manley Lab): “Super-Resolution Microscopy Across Biological Spatiotemporal Scales

Mikhail Nikolaev (P.hD. student in the Lutolf Lab): “Tissue-Engineered Mini-Guts Establish a Homeostatic Organoid Culture System Resembling Native Intestinal Tissue

Anush Chiappino-Pepe | 2019 Award winner | © EPFL A. Herzog
Anush Chiappino-Pepe | 2019 Award winner | © EPFL A. Herzog

Anush Chiappino-Pepe formerly doctoral student, then postdoctoral researcher, in Vassily Hatzimanikatis’ Laboratory of Computational Systems Biotechnology (LCSB), wins the 2019 ‘Jeffrey Hubbell and Melody Swartz Young Bioengineer Award’ with a Bioengineering Day presentation titled “Genome Scale Identification of Essential Metabolic Processes for Targeting the Plasmodium Liver Stage”.

Chiappino-Pepe, a Chemical Engineer trained at Complutense University in Madrid, Spain (Diploma Degree in 2013), did her Ph.D. (awarded May 2018), as well as initial post-doctoral work, at EPFL in the Hatzimanikatis Lab. In her doctoral research, Chiappino-Pepe used systems biology approaches to analyze cellular and drug action mechanisms in the malaria parasites. After half a year of post-doctoral work in the same lab, she moved to Harvard Medical School and the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering (Boston, MA, USA) as SNSF Postdoctoral Fellow in Molecular and Systems Biology, advised by Prof. George M. Church.

In a major recent contribution co-first authored by Chiappino-Pepe (RR Stanway, E Bushell, A Chiappino-Pepe et al, Cell, 179 (2019), pp. 1112-1128.e26), genes important for the entire malaria parasite life cycle, which reveal growth bottlenecks in Plasmodium to establish infection in mammalian hosts, are identified by a genome-scale knockout screen. This work, which provides future targets for drug development, is expected to have significant impact in the field of malaria research.

2019 Award finalists (from left to right): Pablo Gainza-Cirauqui, Adrien Descloux, Kamilo Melo, Anush Chiappino-Pepe, with Prof. Georg Fantner, CHairman of the Jury.
2019 Award finalists (from left to right): Pablo Gainza-Cirauqui, Adrien Descloux, Kamilo Melo, Anush Chiappino-Pepe, with Prof. Georg Fantner, Chairman of the Jury | © EPFL A. Herzog

All four finalists were invited to give a talk at the annual EPFL Bioengineering Day that took place November 27, 2019, at the SwissTech Convention Center in Lausanne:

Anush Chiappino-Pepe (Postdoc, formerly Ph.D. student in the Hatzimanikatis Lab): “Genome Scale Identification of Essential Metabolic Processes for Targeting the Plasmodium Liver Stage

Adrien Descloux (Ph.D. student, Radenovic Lab): “Parameter-Free Image Resolution Estimation

Pablo Gainza-Cirauqui (Postdoc, Correia Lab): “Rationally Designing Protein Interactions for Immunotherapeutics

Kamilo Melo (Postdoc, Ijspeert Lab): “From a Fossil to a Robot… and All the Steps in Between“.

Andreas Tittl | 2018 Award winner | © EPFL M. Gerber

Andreas Tittl from Hatice Altug’s BioNanoPhotonic Systems Laboratory (BIOS) wins the 2018 ‘Jeffrey Hubbell and Melody Swartz Young Bioengineer Award’.

Tittl, post-doctoral researcher in the Altug Lab since 2015, is a physicist trained at the University of Stuttgart, Germany (Dipl. Phys 2011, Ph.D. 2015), where his research under the supervision of Prof. H. Giessen was already focused on sensing, imaging and plasmonics. His current research, carried out under the auspices ot the EPFL’s international postdoctoral fellowship programme, is dedicated to novel dielectric metasurface approaches for the imaging-based detection of molecular absorption fingerprints, as well as to mid-infrared phase control.

In a pivotal recent contribution (Tittl et al., Science 360, 1105–1109, 2018), Tittl demonstrated a new large-area imaging-based nanophotonic method capable of detecting mid-infrared molecular fingerprints without the need for spectrometry, frequency scanning, or moving mechanical parts. The method leverages a 2D array of high-Q dielectric metasurfaces to convert absorption signatures of surface adsorbed molecules into a barcode-like spatial absorption map, providing unique prospects for chemical analysis by using advanced data science techniques.

In another major co-first-authored recent contribution (Rodrigo and Tittl et al, Nature Communications 9, 2160, 2018), Tittl presented a mid-infrared biosensor based on a novel multi-resonant plasmonic metasurface, which, for the first time, is able to distinguish different molecular compounds in heterogeneous biological samples in-situ, non-destructively and in real-time by accessing distinct chemical fingerprint information. This new device can spectroscopically resolve the interaction of biomimetic lipid membranes with peptides, as well as the dynamics of synaptic vesical cargo release, which are biologically important mass-preserving processes that are inaccessible to standard label-free biosensors, regardless of their sensitivity.

All four finalists were invited to give a talk at the annual EPFL Bioengineering Day that took place November 1, 2018, at the SwissTech Convention Center in Lausanne:

Andreas Tittl (Postdoc, Altug Lab): “Imaging-based Biospectroscopy in the Palm of your Hand

Marie Didier (Ph.D. student, Roke Lab): “A Water Window on Neuronal Membrane Potentials

Jake Yeung (Ph.D. student, Naef Lab): “Organizing Gene Expression and Chromatin over the 24-Hour Day

Thomas Bolton (Ph.D. student, Van De Ville Lab): “Views of Life: Autism Idiosyncrasy Shown by Computational Neuroimaging“.


Adrian Nievergelt from Georg Fantner’s Laboratory for Bio- and Nano-Instrumentation (LBNI) wins the 2017 ‘Jeffrey Hubbell and Melody Swartz Young Bioengineer Award’.

Nievergelt, doctoral student in the Fantner Lab since 2013, is a mechanical engineer trained at ETH Zurich (B.Sc. 2010, M.Sc. 2013) who perfectly embodies the Fantner Lab’s mantra according to which “a new bioinstrument is only as good as the science that can be done with it”. Although still at the beginning of his career, he already fully embraces the roles of both a technology enabler and a curiosity driven scientist. His contribution in the development of a novel Atomic Force Microscopy (AFM) imaging technique called photothermal off-resonance tapping (PORT) has allowed to reduce tip-sample forces by no less than one order of magnitude, which is truly remarkable.

Nievergelt has also developed a strong interest for biology and has made contributions enabling complex biological experiments such as the long-term observation of bacterial growth by AFM, and has provided important simulations and theoretical knowledge helping to advance our understanding of the mechanobiology of bacterial cells. These contributions have earned him co-authorship on several high impact publications.

Last but not least, Nievergelt is very committed to the idea of open science: he has put significant effort in the dissemination of his technology within the broad AFM community through a pilot project for open hardware.

All four finalists were invited to give a talk at the annual EPFL Bioengineering Day that took place November 24, 2017, at the SwissTech Convention Center in Lausanne:

Kyle M. Douglass (Postdoc, Manley Lab): “Democratizing the Super-Resolution Microscope”

Dordaneh Etezadi (Ph.D. student, Altug Lab): “Nanoplasmonic Mid-Infrared Biosensor for Ultrasensitive Protein Secondary Structure Detection”

Adrian Nievergelt (Ph.D. student, Fantner Lab): “A Gentle High-Speed Atomic Force Microscope for Real-Time Visualization of Weak Protein Interactions”

Petra C. Schwalie (Postdoc, Deplancke Lab): “A Stromal Cell Population that Inhibits Adipogenesis in Mammalian Fat Depots”.

Jiandong Feng from Aleksandra Radenovic’s Laboratory of Nanoscale Biology (LBEN) wins the 2016 ‘Future Leader in Bioengineering Award’.

Feng, doctoral student in the Radenovic Lab until July 2016, is a trained chemist (B.Sc. 2013, Zhejiang University, China) who -already quite remarkably- was exceptionally admitted into the EPFL’s physics doctoral program without a Master degree. His doctoral work was in the field of solid state nanopores used as tools to probe chemical structures and physical processes at the single-molecule level, with an eye on next generation DNA sequencing. To date he has authored or co-authored 8 journal papers, including an amazing three first-author articles in Nature Nanotechnology (2015), Nature Materials (2016) and Nature (2016), as well as three patents.

2016 Finalists

Alexander Eskandarian (Postdoc, McKinney & Fantner Labs): “Combined Long-Term Time-Lapse AFM/Optical Fluorescence Microscopy: a Tool for a “New Microbiology”

Matteo Cornaglia (Postdoc, Gijs Lab): “Nematode-Based Screening Technologies for Next Generation Drug Discovery”

Samuel T. Jones (Postdoc, Stellacci Lab): “Biocompatible Virucidal Materials as Broad-Spectrum Antivirals”

Jiandong Feng (Ph.D. student, Radenovic Lab): “Engineered Nanopores for Probing Physics and Biology”.

Postdoc Category

Bram Trachet from Nikos Stergiopulos’ Laboratory for Hemodynamics and Cardiovascular Technology (LHTC) wins the 2015 ‘Future Leader in Bioengineering Award’ in the Postdoc category.

Trachet, a trained electromechanical engineer (M.Sc. 2007, Ghent University, Belgium), has obtained his Ph.D. in Biomedical engineering at Ghent University in 2012 under the supervision of Patrick Segers, before joining the Stergiopulos Lab in 2013 as postdoctoral researcher in the field of aortic pathophysiology. He has produced seminal work applying Phase-Contrast X-ray Microtomography (PCXTM), a super high resolution 3D imaging modality, to the study of disease progression in mouse models of abdominal aortic aneurysms. In three years after obtaining his doctoral degree Trachet has authored or co-authored no less than 26 papers.

Graduate Student Category

Priscilla Briquez from Jeff Hubbell’s Laboratory for Regenerative Medicine and Pharmacobiology (LMRP) wins the 2015 ‘Future Leader in Bioengineering Award’ in the Grad Student category.

Briquez, doctoral student in Biotechnology and Bioengineering in the Hubbell Lab since 2012, is a trained bioengineer (M.Sc. 2011, EPFL, supervised by Jeff Hubbell). Her doctoral work is in the field of regenerative medicine, namely the biology of cytokine interaction with the extracellular matrix, with clinical application to wound healing. To date she has authored or co-authored a remarkable 9 papers (including a first-author article in Science in 2014), as well as a patent application (filed in 2013).

Finalists 2015

Bram Trachet (Postdoc, Stergiopulos Lab): “Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm in Mice: the Importance of Imaging”

Priscilla Briquez (Ph.D. student, Hubbell Lab): “Growth Factors Engineered for Super‐Affinity to the Extracellular Matrix Enhance Tissue Healing”

Claudia Bank (Postdoc, Jensen Lab): “Epistasis and the Shape of Fitness Landscapes”

Pascal Odermatt (Ph.D. student, Fantner Lab): “Living Matters: Imaging of Live Cells at Nanometer Spatial and Millisecond Temporal Resolution”.

Rudolf Griss from Kai Johnsson’s Laboratory of Protein Engineering (LIP) was the first recipient of the IBI’s annual ‘Future Leader in Bioengineering Award’, newly established in 2014.

Griss, a Postdoc in the Johnsson Lab where he had obtained his Ph.D. in December, 2013, was at that time developing a platform technology for handheld in vitro diagnostic devices allowing instant measurements of precise analyte concentrations in single drops of body fluids at the point-of-care, the applications of which include patient self-monitoring for chronic diseases and therapeutic drug monitoring.

Rudolf Griss is a trained chemist (M.Sc. 2010, ETHZ) who as an undergrad has also attended programs at Cambridge University (UK) and Harvard University (USA). He is co-founder of the startup company Lucentix, launched early in 2014 and active in the field of instant measurement in vitro diagnostics.

Griss was nominated for the Award by his supervisor, as were 12 other Postdocs or advanced PhD students competing for the Award. Alongside three more finalists he was shortlisted for giving a talk at the EPFL Bioengineering Day held September 19, 2014, after which the Award Jury composed of five IBI Professors designated him as the winner of the 2014 Award, worth 1’000 Swiss Francs in cash.

The Award Jury acknowledged the superb quality overall of entries in the Award competition, with a particular nod to runner-ups Laurent Mouchiroud (Postdoc, Auwerx Lab), Henrike Niederholtmeyer (doctoral student, Maerkl Lab) and Adrian Ranga (Postdoc, Lutolf Lab).

Rudolf Griss (Postdoc, Johnsson Lab): “Engineered Bioluminescent Sensor Proteins for Point-of-Care Diagnostics”

Laurent Mouchiroud (Postdoc, Auwerx Lab): “Bio-Microfluidic Devices for Hydrodynamic Trapping of C.elegans Embryos as Method for Their Isolation and Age Synchronization”

Henrike Niederholtmeyer (Ph.D. student, Maerkl Lab): “In vitro Genetic Networks at Steady State”

Adrian Ranga (Postdoc, Lutolf Lab): “Neural Tube Morphogenesis via Arrays of Synthetic 3D Microenvironments”.