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Lydia Bourouiba Elected 2021 American Physical Society Fellow

Lydia Bourouiba Elected 2021 American Physical Society Fellow

MIT professor receives prestigious honor for outstanding contributions to physics and pioneering a new field

MIT Associate Professor Lydia Bourouiba has been selected as a 2021 American Physical Society (APS) Fellow of the prominent scientific society for her outstanding contributions to physics and pioneering a new field of study.

The APS Fellowship confers honors to members who have made significant research achievements or significant innovative contributions in the application of physics to science and technology. The fellowship is an exclusive honor by one’s professional peers with no more than one half of one percent of the Society’s international community of members recognized each year for election to the status of Fellow. Bourouiba was nominated by the Division of Fluid Dynamics for “fundamental work in quantitatively elucidating the mechanisms of droplet impact and fragmentation, and for pioneering a new field at the intersection of fluid dynamics and transmission of respiratory and foodborne pathogens, with clear and tangible contributions to public health.”

“It is a great honor to receive this recognition from my esteemed colleagues and core professional community of physicists at APS. The research our lab conducts seeks to push the boundaries of our knowledge in dynamics, fluid physics, biology, and modelling, iterating closely between experiments and theory, to further our understanding of fundamental fluid physics, particularly as it pertains to understanding a range of health phenomena. I am grateful to the community and to be among extraordinary peers in the APS who have inspired me to pursue difficult problems wherever they lead motivated by the curiosity to unravel the mysteries governing the natural world around us,” says Prof. Lydia Bourouiba.

Bourouiba founded and directs The Fluid Dynamics of Disease Transmission Laboratory in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. A physical applied mathematician faculty member at MIT’s Institute for Medical Engineering and Science, Department of Mechanical Engineering, and Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, her research spans a broad range of applied mathematics approaches at the intersection of physics and biology. Her lab conducts curiosity-driven fluid dynamic experiments at various scales to understand the fundamental physical mechanisms shaping epidemiology and disease transmission dynamics in human, animal and plant populations. Most recently, her work elucidated the multi-scale dynamics of fluid fragmentation, droplet and bubble dynamics, and complex and multiphase flows with particular interest in the physics and biology that drive mixing, transport, persistence, and adaptation of pathogens relevant to contamination and health.

“Professor Bourouiba’s research has made a significant impact in fundamental fluid dynamics and interfacial flows and how we understand transmission dynamics of pathogens, and her research continues to shape scientific understandings of the airborne spread of respiratory infectious diseases for public health in time of crisis,” says Ali Jadbabaie, Department Head of MIT Civil and Environmental Engineering and JR Professor of Engineering. “I’m delighted that she has been recognized by her peers at APS for her fundamental research and pioneering accomplishments, in addition to real world impact.”

Bourouiba’s research and contributions throughout her career led to paradigm shifts, from understanding the fundamental role of unsteadiness in fragmentation upon impact, and how it governs in unexpected ways the selection of the resulting spray drops, important in a range of natural and industrial applications; to discovering new modes of transmission of waterborne or foliar pathogens, to a new understanding of respiratory emission that had implications for mask design, social distancing recommendations, and other public health interventions during and after the COVID-19 pandemic.

In 2019, Bourouiba founded and chaired the inaugural Fluids and Health Conference: Fluid Dynamics of Disease Transmission to foster the growth of this exciting frontier area of research beyond her group and define the key challenges at the interface of fluid dynamics and health. She subsequently founded a new Gordon Research Conference focused on Fluids and Health: Fluids in Disease Transmission and Contamination to be held in August 2022.

She is the recipient of many awards, including the Tse Cheuk Ng Tai’s Prize for Innovative Research in Health Sciences, the Ole Madsen Mentoring Award, the Smith Family Foundation Odyssey Award for high-risk/high-reward basic science research.

To learn more about the American Physical Society Fellowship program and view the complete list of the 2021 APS Fellows, visit the APS Fellow Archive.