Tejal Desai, 27
University of Illinois, Chicago
Microelectromechanical systems, or MEMS, are millimeter-scale machines etched from silicon. These Lilliputian devices are opening up whole new frontiers in areas from communications to energy production (see "May the Micro-force Be With You," TR September/October 1999). Tejal Desai aims to see MEMS conquer another field: bioengineering. Desai is using micromachining to create tiny implants that can carry needed cells into ailing bodies, all the while protecting them from attacks by the immune system. In one project, she prototyped a biocapsule for diabetics designed to deliver pancreatic cells to boost insulin production.
"She’s rapidly becoming one of the most established researchers in the biomedical applications of nanotechnology and bio-MEMS," says Mauro Ferrari, director of Ohio State’s Biomedical Engineering Center. At just 26,Desai became the first professor hired into the University of Illinois newly created department of bioengineering, whose director Richard Magin says, "If I could clone Tejal, I would." Luckily, Desai is already working to clone herself: She’s deeply involved with organizations that encourage girls and minorities to study math and science.