Chemical engineering selects 2020 Early Career Alumni award winner

Rajib Saha visits the University Park campus in 2018 with his wife, Shudipto Dishari, a former postdoctoral researcher in Penn State's Departments of Materials Science and Engineering and Chemical Engineering, and their son. Credit: Rajib SahaAll Rights Reserved.

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Rajib Saha, an assistant professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) and Penn State chemical engineering alumnus, has received the 2020 Early Career Alumni Recognition Award from the Penn State Department of Chemical Engineering.

The award is intended to honor an outstanding Penn State chemical engineering graduate who received their degree within the past 10 years and is an exemplary role model for current chemical engineering students as well as a successful contributor to industry.

Saha earned his master of science in 2011 and his doctorate in 2014, both in chemical engineering at Penn State, and began teaching at UNL in 2016 after a postdoctoral research fellowship at Washington University in St. Louis. As director of the Systems and Synthetic Biology Lab, he examines microbes, plants and microbial consortia for applications in biofuels and other biologically derived products and has published 14 journal articles at UNL.

This year, he received a $747,855 National Science Foundation (NSF) Faculty Early Career Development Program award to study the potential of a versatile bacterium, Rhodopseudomonas palustris, to break down plant waste. Saha received grants in 2018 and 2019 from the NSF Molecular and Cellular Biology program to address knowledge gaps in conversion of waste bioproducts into energy. He has also received financial support from the Nebraska Systems of Science Initiative for his biomedical research on pancreatic cancer metabolic reprogramming and drug-resistant pathogens. Thus far, Saha has secured roughly $1.4 million from federal and state grants and an additional $87,000 from internal UNL grants. 

Despite his research commitments, Saha makes time to balance his career as a scientist with mentorship. He provides guidance to students pursuing a graduate degree, often encouraging them to attend Penn State. He also serves as a mentor to individuals pursuing careers in academia. 

Saha also participates in diversity and outreach initiatives to bolster interest and success in STEM careers. Since 2017, he has led involvement efforts for his department to participate in the UNL Women in Science Conference and UNL Math Day. To further promote an appreciation for STEM in prospective students, Saha works with the Nebraska State Museum and Osher Lifelong Learning Institute in outreach activities. He also develops interactive activities and biology books for preschoolers to inspire a love of science in others from a young age.

Saha has juggled his academic priorities with service opportunities since his time as a graduate student at Penn State. He served as a liaison between Penn State and his native country of Bangladesh, eventually persuading four students to attend Penn State. At Penn State in 2012, he formed and served as president of the Bangladesh Student Association, which went on to win the Best New Organization of the Year Award in 2013. Saha continues to foster connections between international students and academic programs as a part of the UNL graduate recruiting committee.

While Saha is now separated from Penn State by more than a thousand miles, he shortens the distance when he can. In past years, he visited the University Park campus annually to attend sports events, spend time outdoors and connect with past colleagues and mentors. During these visits, Saha enjoyed introducing his family to local landmarks or his favorite campus locations.

“I will always cherish the sense of belonging I felt at Penn State,” he said. “I consider State College my home. Receiving this award, being recognized by my alma mater, is really special to me — because I feel I live and breathe Penn State.”


Last Updated September 30, 2020