Cel Welch wins prestigious Joukowsky Dissertation Award for groundbreaking advances in diagnostic engineering

The Joukowsky dissertation award in the Life Sciences goes to Cel Welch, who completed their Ph.D. in Biomedical Engineering this spring. Through their dissertation, titled Novel Devices, Physical Mechanisms, and Analytical Techniques for Use in Next Generation Cellular Diagnostics, Welch developed novel electrical and acoustic methods to process tissue into single cells for direct sequencing.

Welch also invented new devices to replace the inefficient, laborious and time-consuming existing technologies that limit effective diagnosis of diseases likeCel Welch headshot cancer. They developed a new approach to preparing tissues and heterogeneous cellular samples for single-cell sequencing (SCS) using these novel physical mechanisms and devices. There had been a lack of technological advancements in this area for decades, limiting the translational potential of SCS in cancer diagnostics. 

The bulk of Welch’s thesis is focused on electronic and microfluidic devices for cellular manipulation and enrichment, as well as cellular biosensors. Welch also developed a mathematical model and invented two new physical mechanisms for expedited, enzyme-free tissue dissociation. Finally, Welch concluded with additional work using artificial intelligence and machine learning-based cellular diagnostics for cancer, focusing on cervical cancer diagnosis. Welch worked with a multidisciplinary team to create two separate models, as well as a publicly accessible database that will be instrumental in advancing the field by creating a touchstone resource. 

Welch has an impressive portfolio of first-author scientific publications in leading journals, patents, conference proceedings and other contributions. Each of the 13 chapters of their dissertation is a first-author scientific paper that is either already published, under review, or in revision. Welch also submitted five patents from their thesis work. One of these patents was a finalist in the Engineering & Technology Innovation Awards, the largest global recognition for engineering inventors, for the Most Innovative Solution for Digital Health and Social Care.

Welch has garnered numerous recognitions both inside and outside of academia. At Brown, they have been awarded the Graduate Contribution to Community Life Award, School of Engineering Outstanding Thesis Award, and Biomedical Innovations to Impact Grant. Internationally, Welch has received recognition through the Forbes 30 Under 30 in Science, STAT Wunderkinds, Chemical Abstracts Service Future Leaders, and the Institute of Engineering and Technology 95 Inspiring Engineers and Technologists.

Welch shares, “I am deeply moved to have my work, which I care so much about, recognized by a community that has been so instrumental in launching my scientific journey. I have my advisor to thank, as well as the other professors who have served as my mentors and the students who have served as my collaborators and mentees.” 

In February, Welch began a position at Stanford University’s Department of Chemical Engineering as a Baker and NIH NHLBI T32 Postdoctoral Fellow in Zhenan Bao’s Lab. They are currently working on creating a flexible electronic pacemaker to integrate with a fully 3-D printed artificial heart for the ARPA-H HEART project.

Brown is proud to recognize and honor Welch’s dedication to science and engineering with the Joukowsky dissertation award, as their profound scientific journey and strong efforts to promote inclusivity in engineering thus far is indicative of the incredible impact they will continue to make in the field. 

Doctoral candidates and graduates, Mariajosé Rodríguez-Pliego, Cel Welch, Laura Heuman Lark, and Giulia Buccione were selected for the Graduate School's Joukowsky Family Foundation Outstanding Dissertation Award. Prizes are awarded at the Doctoral Ceremony on May 26, 2024.