Whitney Fowler Research Group

The Molecular Engineering Lab

The Molecular Engineering Lab at Harvey Mudd College designs engineered systems at the molecular level to address emerging challenges in the water crisis and human health at a global scale. To do this, we apply engineering design principles to highly tunable molecules in such a way that we can (1) control how these molecules self-assemble into larger structures and (2) design-in functions to these macro-molecular assemblies that would not be possible for the individual molecules to do themselves.

Just like how structural engineers strategically select individual materials and components to design an assembled large-scale structure with emergent properties, we as a society now have the technology to understand and manipulate building blocks at the molecular scale to engineer macro-scale structures that can perform amazing functions. Our lab is fascinated by the possibilities in this space!

We harness the amazing functions of natural biological molecules and incorporate them into bio-inspired synthetic materials. We are currently designing biomimetic supramolecular assemblies that are intrinsically fluorescent, which is a new property that we discovered in a highly studied and tunable system called peptide amphiphile nanofibers. We seek to (1) tune the molecular design to enhance the fluorescence signal, which then positions us to (2) design in fluorescent stimuli-responsive sensing mechanisms, which has intriguing applications in biosensing, bioimaging, and detecting emerging contaminants in water.

Prof. Fowler’s goal for her students is that they would become graduate-level researchers who work independently and train up new lab members out of their newly developed areas of expertise. Through personalized mentorship with Prof. Fowler, students are able to gain all the skills required to complete a research project, from performing a thorough literature review and developing their own research questions, to disseminating their research in clearly articulated publications and oral presentations. Prof. Fowler deeply cares about creating an inclusive space in which failure is expected and all feel comfortable growing and contributing, with the goal that this lab space could be a training ground for students from all backgrounds and experience-levels to excel in these skills and advance good in our world.

About the Principle Investigator

Professor Whitney Fowler received her Bachelors of Engineering in Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering from Vanderbilt University and her Ph.D. in Molecular Engineering at the University of Chicago with a research emphasis on Materials Systems for Sustainability and Health. As an Assistant Professor of Engineering at Harvey Mudd College, she has loved interacting with Mudders and teaching courses such as E138 Introduction to Environmental Engineering and E4 Introduction to Engineering Design and Manufacturing.