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Kimberly Hamad-Schifferli, left, with postdoctoral researcher Maria Sanchez-Purra, right, holding a prototype of the nanoparticle infused diagnostic strip.
March 27, 2017

Nanoparticle researcher earns Foresight Fellowship


  • Boston

UMass Boston Associate Professor of Engineering Kimberly Hamad-Schifferli is making a testing device for contagious diseases that is as small as a drugstore pregnancy test – and works just as fast. Last week, Hamad-Schifferli was named a Foresight Fellow by the Foresight Institute in California. She is a part of the very first cohort of fellows, who have been selected to provide new perspectives on nanotechnology, space, longevity, mind uploading, and AI ethics.

Hamad-Schifferli is a chemist, but she has spent the last few years working alongside bioengineers from MIT using nanoparticles to create diagnostic tests that can be deployed in “field forward” situations, areas where access to medical care is challenging. Results for Ebola or the Zika virus can take a week or more. Nanoparticle-infused test strips would give results to doctors and patients within ,minutes.

Hamad-Schifferli’s nanoparticle research also has applications for new drug therapies. Nanoparticles could someday be combined with cancer drugs to boost the drugs’ ability to work inside the body.

The Foresight Institute fellowship will allow Hamad-Schifferli to bring her research to the public and to professionals who work outside of laboratory settings.

“It’s important that we engage with people in the medical field and people outside of academia, because we want to make devices that people will use,” Hamad-Schifferli said. “We don’t want to make a fancy hammer with no nail.”

Hamad-Schifferli joined the faculty at UMass Boston in 2015, after working at MIT and MIT Lincoln Lab. Engineering Department Chair Greg Sun says he’s glad to have Hamad-Schifferli on board.

“Her intellectual depth, experimental skills, creative thinking, and teaching experience are what we need to move forward in interdisciplinary research in nanotechnology and bioengineering,” Sun said.

The year-long Foresight Institute fellowship is designed to help catalyze the development of future technologies. Hamad-Schifferli looks forward to working with the nine other researchers in this inaugural cohort. Other fellows in the program are affiliated with MIT, Northwestern, and the University of Washington.