Tiger of the Week: John Dabiri ’01

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John Dabiri ’01 (Courtesy the John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation)

Engineer John Dabiri ’01 draws design inspiration from unusual sources, including jellyfish, whose efficient propulsion mechanism has influenced designs for energy-efficient underwater vehicles and wind power turbines, as well as medical research on blood flow. His work in fluid dynamics, featured in PAW last October, earned him a spot on the Popular Science "Brilliant 10" in 2008. This week, Dabiri received another boost when he was selected for a $500,000 no-strings-attached MacArthur Fellowship – popularly known as a "genius grant."

At age 30, Dabiri is the youngest of this year’s 23 MacArthur Fellows. The son of Nigerian immigrants who settled in Toledo, Ohio, he majored in mechanical and aerospace engineering at Princeton and first studied jellyfish as a summer researcher at Caltech after his junior year. Mory Gharib, the Caltech professor who led that project, later became his doctoral adviser. Dabiri received his Ph.D. from Caltech in 2005 and joined the faculty a month later.

Dabiri, who regularly travels around the world to study different jellyfish in their natural habitats, told The Los Angeles Times that he plans to use some of the MacArthur grant on swimming lessons: "Oddly enough, I never learned to swim," he said. "For once, it will be nice to study jellyfish from close up instead of from the other side of the glass."

Do you have a nominee for Tiger of the Week? Let us know. All alumni qualify. PAW’s Tiger of the Week is selected by our staff, with help from readers like you.