Professor Bhagi-Damodaran receives NSF CAREER Award

Professor Ambika Bhagi-Damodaran received the 2021 National Science Foundation CAREER award. The award was jointly funded by NSF's Cellular and Biochemistry Engineering (CBE) Program in the Division of Chemical, Bioengineering, Environmental and Transport Systems (CBET), and Chemistry of Life Processes (CLP) Program in the Division of Chemistry (CHE). The award aims to support junior faculty members who embody the role of ideal teacher-scholars through the integration of education and research while supporting the mission of their organization, and provides the Bhagi-Damodaran Lab $940,980 over five years. 

Halogenated organic compounds are essential building blocks for chemical synthesis and play important roles as pharmaceuticals and agrochemicals. Despite the utility of these compounds, current methods of installing halogen atoms require activated or pre-functionalized starting materials and wasteful multistep functional group conversions. Prof. Bhagi-Damodaran and her group will use the NSF CAREER funding to overcome this critical barrier in organic synthetic methodologies. Specifically, the Bhagi-Damodaran lab will rationally and computationally design non-heme iron enzymes, and reprogram them into modular, versatile, and sustainable halogenation biocatalysts. From an educational perspective, Prof. Bhagi-Damodaran and her group will promote the understanding of metals in biology and biocatalysis to a wide range of learners. Specifically, Prof. Bhagi-Damodaran will star in the ‘Energy and U’ show for elementary school students, lead a ‘Metals in Biocatalysis’ hands-on day camp for high school female students, and develop videos with undergraduate students highlighting the role of metals in biological processes. This broad reaching educational plan will enable undergraduate, graduate students and postdocs to become effective science communicators while increasing science awareness of elementary and high school students.

Research in the Bhagi-Damodaran lab focuses on investigating structure, function and reaction mechanisms of metalloenzymes, and developing rational approaches to modulate their biological activities. Drawing from the core disciplines of biological, inorganic, medicinal, and computational chemistry, the Bhagi-Damodaran group utilizes protein engineering and small molecule discovery strategies to address pressing health and energy related challenges.

Professor Bhagi-Damodaran joined the Department of Chemistry as an assistant professor in the fall of 2018. A native of India, she was born and raised in Uttar Pradesh. She received her bachelor’s in chemistry from St. Stephen's College, University of Delhi, and a master's degree from the Indian Institute of Technology in Delhi. She earned her doctorate at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.