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

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”.