Lauren Zarzar, associate professor of chemistry and materials science and engineering, has been named one of seven recipients for the Simons Foundation Pivot Fellowship.
The fellowship is designed to drive innovation and collaboration between fields by encouraging the exploration of new research areas. In Zarzar’s case, this fellowship will allow her to transition into the field of bioengineering. Pivot Fellows are supported for one year of mentored training in a new field, followed by the opportunity to apply for up to three years of research funding in the new discipline.
“The most exciting research discoveries are often made at the interfaces between traditional disciplines, but venturing into different research territory is often difficult and risky to do,” said Zarzar. “This fellowship is going to help jumpstart new research directions within our lab by providing time, funding, and collaborative opportunities to help make that transition easier and more fruitful.”
Zarzar’s fellowship will take place during her upcoming sabbatical at the University of Pennsylvania under the guidance of Daniel Hammer, the Alfred G. and Meta A. Ennis Professor of Bioengineering and Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering. She will be exploring the ways in which synthetic biomaterials can be modified to interact with biological systems to improve outcomes in human health.
“This is an exceptional award that will allow Lauren to apply her expertise in materials chemistry to a new field,” said Phil Bevilacqua, head of the Department of Chemistry and distinguished professor of chemistry and of biochemistry and molecular biology. “I’m confident that this will lead to new and exciting directions in her research program."
Zarzar’s research interests include responsive systems and active matter, micro-optics and laser microfabrication. The Zarzar group has found ways to control complex fluids and emulsions to harness liquids as materials in new ways. The team is also investigating materials with reflective microscale structures that generate unique optical properties, including structural color. Additionally, they have developed methods using lasers to rapidly create and add patterns to micro-scale materials called inorganic composites, which have applications in sensors and accelerating chemical reactions.
Zarzar’s other achievements include receiving a Distinguished Faculty Mentoring Award in 2022, the Camille Dreyfus Teacher-Scholar Award in 2022, a Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) award from the National Science Foundation in 2021, and the Marion Milligan Mason Award for Women in the Chemical Sciences from the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), an Alfred P. Sloan Research Fellowship in chemistry, and a Young Investigator Research Program grant from the Air Force Office of Scientific Research in 2020. She was honored with the Rustum and Della Roy Innovation in Materials Research Award from the Penn State Materials Research Institute, a Packard Fellowship for Science and Engineering by the David and Lucile Packard Foundation and was recognized as one of the Chemical & Engineering News (C&EN) Talented 12 in 2019. Other awards and honors include the Unilever Award from the Division of Colloid and Surface Chemistry of the American Chemical Society (ACS) in 2019; the Army Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (Army-ECASE), and the 3M Non-Tenured Faculty Award.
Prior to joining the faculty at Penn State, Zarzar was a postdoctoral researcher in chemistry at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology from 2013 to 2016. She earned a doctoral degree in chemistry at Harvard University in 2013 and bachelor's degrees in chemistry and in economics at the University of Pennsylvania in 2008.