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UC San Diego Engineering Professors Elected Fellows of National Academy of Inventors

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Two professors at the University of California San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering have been named 2023 Fellows of the National Academy of Inventors (NAI).

Eric Fullerton, a professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, and Prashant Mali, a professor in the Shu Chien-Gene Lay Department of Bioengineering, are among 162 new Fellows announced by the NAI today.

The distinction honors innovative academic inventors whose work has made a tangible impact on the quality of life, economic development, and the welfare of society. Election as an NAI Fellow is the highest professional distinction awarded solely to academic inventors.

“This year’s inductees embody UC San Diego’s drive to discover and innovate, from groundbreaking information technologies to genome editing and regenerative medicine,” said Vice Chancellor for Research and Innovation Corinne Peek-Asa. “We are the first University of California campus to create a chapter of the National Academy of Inventors, and this recognition supports our tradition of innovation excellence.”

UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering Dean Albert P. (Al) Pisano is one of the advisers to the UC San Diego NAI chapter and an NAI fellow himself.

“I’m honored to offer my hearty congratulations to Eric Fullerton and Prashant Mali, the two UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering professors selected as 2023 National Academy of Inventors Fellows. Here at the Jacobs School, we are absolutely dedicated to the translation of innovations to society in order to improve human lives. Eric and Prashant’s hard work, dedication, and accomplishments highlight how we deliver on our mission to advance engineering and computer science for the public good. Congratulations!” said Pisano. 

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Eric Fullerton

Eric Fullerton, who serves as the Director of the UC San Diego Center for Memory and Recording Research (CMRR), is a leader in the field of data storage and memory technologies. His current research focuses on the synthesis and characterization of magnetic nanostructures, both as a probe of materials in reduced dimensions and for the development of novel information technologies.

He is known for inventing and developing various forms of multilayer, high-density magnetic recording media. This technology has enabled hard disk drives to store data at unprecedented levels while shrinking in size. Fullerton helped propel the data storage industry forward with a series of breakthroughs. In 1999, he helped invent a new type of magnetic media called antiferromagnetically-coupled media, otherwise known as “pixie-dust” media for their seemingly magical ability to improve hard disk drive performance. This invention made it possible for hard disk drives to store 100 billion bits of data per square inch of disk area—previously, the areal density of hard disk drives had stagnated at about 25 billion bits per square inch. This work paved the way for exponential growth in the areal density of hard disk drives. Another breakthrough occurred in 2001, when Fullerton pioneered the development of exchange-coupled composite materials, which were also instrumental in enabling the exponential growth of hard disk drive storage densities. These materials have become the industry standard in perpendicular magnetic recording.

Beyond enhancing their data storage capacity, Fullerton is working to make hard drives run faster. His research group has shown that it is possible to switch magnetic bits using polarized light, a process significantly faster and less power-hungry than the conventional method of using magnetic fields. This advance has the potential to streamline the design and improve the speed of magnetic recording. Fullerton also develops ultra-low power information storage, memory and processing components aimed at drastically reducing the energy consumption of information technologies. Inspired by the energy-efficient design of the human brain, Fullerton is exploring the use of low-energy magnetic and ionic processes for both storing and processing information.

Fullerton holds 51 U.S. patents, including a patent selected as one of the “Five Patents to Watch” in 2001 by MIT Technology Review. He was elected to the National Academy of Engineering in 2018 and has been honored with various prestigious awards, including the Fulbright-Tocqueville Distinguished Chair Award; election to the IEEE and American Physical Society Fellow Grade; the Industrial Physics Prize from the American Institute of Physic; an Honorary Doctorate from the Université Henri Poincaré, Nancy, France; the IBM Outstanding Technical Achievement Award; and the IEEE Magnetics Society Achievement Award.

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Prashant Mali

Prashant Mali is a leader in the field of genome engineering and regenerative medicine. He is recognized for his pioneering work to engineer tools for enabling gene- and cell-based therapeutics. He has helped develop CRISPRs and ADARs as powerful tools for DNA and RNA editing, respectively, with wide applications in both basic biology and human therapeutics. Mali’s research group has developed a new RNA editing technology that could make it simpler to repair disease-causing mutations in RNA without compromising precision or efficiency. The technology is the first proof-of-concept in vivo RNA editing for treating genetic diseases using RNA editing enzymes, known as ADARs, that are native to the body’s cells. His research group has also developed a CRISPR-based gene therapy for chronic pain, which could offer a safer and non-addictive alternative to opioids.

The Mali lab has a strong translational focus, evidenced by the licensing and ongoing development of several gene therapy technologies by biotechnology startup companies such as Navega Therapeutics and Shape Therapeutics, both of which Mali co-founded. He is also the scientific co-founder of other biotechnology companies, including Boundless Biosciences and Engine Biosciences.

This year, Mali was once again named among the world’s most influential researchers in his field, according to the Clarivate listing of Most Highly Cited Researchers in the World. This marks the fifth consecutive year that Mali has earned this distinguished recognition. In 2022, he was elected to the College of Fellows of the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering (AIMBE). Mali has received several other noteworthy awards, including the Siebel Scholars Award; the Burroughs Wellcome Fund Career Award at the Scientific Interface; the Basil O’Connor Starter Scholar Research Award from the March of Dimes; the Kimmel Scholar Award; election as a Kavli Frontiers of Science Fellow; and the Young Alumnus Achiever Award from the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay.

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