Rita Matta and Dylan Shah Honored at Crest & Fest

Rita Matta and Dylan Shah – both graduate students of Yale School of Engineering & Applied Science - were honored Thursday by SEAS Dean Jeffrey Brock at the annual Crest & Fest celebration.

The 2020 Harding Bliss Prize for exceptional achievement in research in Engineering & Applied Science was awarded to Rita Matta, a graduate student in the lab of Prof. Anjelica Gonzalez, associate professor of biomedical engineering. As a graduate student, Matta took on a new direction for the lab, by focusing on work related to the field of brain reconstruction. 

Her doctoral work has resulted in seven peer reviewed publications, five of which are first-author publications. Additionally, Rita has presented her work at national conferences such as the Biomedical Engineering Society Cellular and Molecular Bioengineering (2019) and the Vascular Biology & Therapeutics program with Cardiovascular Medicine (2018).

Jay Humphrey, chair of the Biomedical Engineering Department and Richard Carson, director of graduate studies for the department, wrote that “Rita has repeatedly revealed that she is not only interested in the basic sciences, but also the societal impact she can have from both inside and outside the lab.”

Beyond her own research, Humphrey and Carson noted that Matta is quick to share her time and expertise with others. 

“Rita’s talents and motivations are not limited strictly to the lab. As a teaching fellow for the course in Biotechnology in the Developing World (BENG405), Rita demonstrated great passion for teaching and developing her skills as a mentor. She has a wonderful rapport with students and talent for explaining both simple and more advanced topics.”

The prize, named in memory of the late Harding Bliss, Professor of Chemical Engineering. The prize consists of an engraved silver bowl, and is awarded each year to a student who has completed his or her Ph.D. thesis during the current academic year and "who has done most to further the intellectual life of the department."

The 2020 Henry Prentiss Becton Graduate Prize, which is awarded at the discretion of the Dean of the School of Engineering & Applied Science to a graduate student in Engineering & Applied Science for exceptional achievement in research, was awarded to Dylan Shah, a graduate student in the lab of Rebecca Kramer-Bottiglio, the John J. Lee Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering & Materials Science. 

There, he is developing functional material systems that will allow next-generation soft robots to adapt to changing tasks and environments. His research is enabling new knowledge and design paradigms to help solve broad challenges related to adaptive physical systems, with applications to human-robot interaction, collaborative robots, and assistive wearables. His contributions are resulting in major advances to our understanding of embodied intelligence|the study of the interaction between the mind, body, and environment.

Kramer-Bottiglio called Shah “a rare and exceptional find as a graduate student.”

“Dylan has made a lasting impact on the engineering science of soft robotics and synthetic metamorphosis through his contributions to our lab's development of robotic skins, a new paradigm for designing, adapting, and controlling robot morphology and behavior, which was featured in the journal Science Robotics.”

In addition to being featured in high-profile media outlets, the work helped Shah earn an invitation to Jeff Bezos' prestigious MARS conference. Beyond his own research, Kramer-Bottiglio noted that Shah is generous with his time and knowledge when helping other students. 

“I have been continually impressed with Dylan's initiative to mentor students, and it is clear to me that his passion for research and teaching has positively impacted the career-path of many of the students he works with.”