Assistant professor of bioengineering at Stanford Manu Prakash received the MacArthur "Genius Grant" on Sept. 21 as one of 23 recipients. The grant is awarded annually to residents or citizens of the United States who have shown "extraordinary originality and dedication in their creative pursuits and a marked capacity for self-direction," according to the MacArthur Foundation. It consists of a total of $625,000 paid over five years, and the recipients of the grant have no particular obligations other than to continue their activities. Individuals are nominated for the award.
Manu Prakash is a physical biologist applying his expertise in soft-matter physics to illuminate often easy to observe but hard to explain phenomena in biological and physical contexts and to invent solutions to difficult problems in global health, science education, and ecological surveillance. His many lines of research are driven by curiosity about the diversity of life forms on our planet and how they work, empathy for problems in resource-poor settings, and a deep interest in democratizing the experience and joy of science globally.
Prakash's projects range from explorations of how shorebirds drink to how a few drops of food coloring can demonstrate highly complex behavior such as chemotaxis, akin to active living matter. His early training and research focused on ideas of physical computation, with a goal of building new computational engines capable of manipulating not just bits of information but also physical matter. One such demonstration involved building a computer out of tiny air bubbles traveling in microfluidic channels. In recent work, Prakash demonstrated a practical implementation of this "water computer," or microfluidic processor, with potential applications in diagnostics and environmental monitoring.