UCSB associate professor of mechanical engineering and materials Hyongsok “Tom” Soh received the prestigious Guggenheim Fellowship recently for his outstanding achievement in engineering research for the medical field.

In total, 180 artists and scholars received fellowships this year, although only two prizes were presented to engineering scholars. Soh’s project aims to combine microfluidics and high-throughput sequencing to improve the development of molecular recognition elements that are target-specific.

Soh said he felt humbled to be associated with past Guggenheim Fellowship recipients.

“Receiving the fellowship was an unexpected surprise,” Soh said. “It is a great honor to be in the company of such creative and talented people.”

College of Engineering Communications Manager Tony Rairden said the high honors bestowed on UCSB’s engineering faculty members are indicative of the impact of their work.

“The Guggenheim is considered one of the most distinguished mid-career honors for a scientist, engineer, scholar or artist, and Tom’s selection for it, in addition to recognizing his outstanding work, is another indicator of the stature of our College of Engineering,” Rairden said.

Soh said his research on microfluidics and high-throughput sequencing is a technological frontier that allows scientists to read the DNA sequences of organisms.

“Much like modern integrated circuits, which manipulate electrical charge, microfluidics technology utilizes miniaturization technology to make very small fluidic components that can be used for manipulating chemical and biological entities such as cells and proteins,” Soh said.

Soh’s groundbreaking work is paving the way for faster and more economic sequencing than the conventional methods used for the human genome project.

“Molecular recognition elements allow you to bind to the molecular targets, be it cancer cells or pathogenic proteins,” Soh said. “So, it is an important cornerstone of modern biotechnology.”

According to a press release, Soh’s research could potentially impact personalized medicine in both developed and underdeveloped countries because of its promise of low-cost, thermo-stable reagents, which can be used for diagnostics at the point-of-care instead of being processed in a lab.

“The proposed work holds the promise of more accurate and earlier diagnostics and new modes of molecular therapies for many diseases.” Soh said. “Our research lab strives to bridge chemistry, technology, and medicine. So in many ways, it is unconventional.”

Engineering Dept. Acting Dean Larry Coldren hailed Soh’s work in a press release.

“He’s been doing groundbreaking, high-impact work since he joined us and we’re pleased that this Guggenheim Fellowship is the latest in his many honors,” Coldren said.