Rajesh Dave Receives Board of Overseers Excellence in Research Prize and Medal

From left: John Seazholtz, chair of the NJIT Board of Overseers; Rajesh Dave, distinguished professor of chemical, biological and pharmaceutical engineering, and Joel S. Bloom, president of NJIT

Rajesh Davé, a distinguished professor of chemical, biological and pharmaceutical engineering best known for re-engineering tiny drug particles to make medications more effective, received NJIT’s Excellence in Research Prize and Medal from the Board of Overseers at a ceremony on campus last night that drew colleagues, both current and former students, and collaborators from other universities.

Drawing on physics, chemistry and engineering, Davé’s research into the behavior of particles is fundamental and his methods for adapting them, widely applicable. For example, by shaking granular or particulate materials along with nanomaterials, which form a thin coating around them, he has been able to optimize their flow, among other processing improvements.

Most recently, he has been re-engineering drug particles to improve medications in a variety of ways: by increasing the absorption rates of drugs with poor water solubility, delaying the release of medications that degrade in the acidic environment of the stomach and masking the bitter tastes of drugs to make them more palatable for children as well as for adult patients who have difficulty swallowing.

“Your work has affected science and technology in an unexpected and positive way,” said John W. Seazholtz ’59, chair of the Board of Overseers, in presenting him with the medal.

Last year, Dave received his ninth patent for coming up with a manufacturing process for coating fine particles less than the diameter of a human hair in width that does not require water, organic solvents or heat. The technology, developed along with former NJIT students who are also named on the patent, has been licensed by a global health care company that develops both drugs and their delivery systems. The coating in this instance is a fine layer of wax that will be used to mask bitter tastes.

Just last month, he was a member of a team led by Ecevit Bilgili, an associate professor in his department, that received a patent for developing yet another method for advancing the effectiveness and tolerability of  pharmaceutical drugs.

In 2015, Davé won a major career award from the American Institute of Chemical Engineers, the organization’s 2015 Lectureship Award in Fluidization, a process for agitating solids such as powders and particles in order to make them behave like liquids. By fluidizing particles, engineers are able to adapt their structure and behavior to improve products ranging from cement, to cookies, to fuel, to cancer medications, to sunscreen, while making it faster and more efficient to manufacture them.

He was also recently honored by the New Jersey Hall of Fame with its “Innovators” award.

He is currently the site-leader and one of the founders for the National Science Foundation (NSF)-funded Engineering Research Center on Structured Organic Particulate Systems, which focuses on manufacturing processes for the pharmaceutical industry. Collaborators include NJIT, Rutgers, Purdue University and the University of Puerto Rico at Mayaguez.

“I am highly privileged to have this job,” Davé remarked, calling the ceremony “a celebration of fun – for the past 25 years.”

In a nod to the many young researchers in the room, he noted, “I accept this on behalf of my students and post-docs. Without them, none of this would have been possible.”

NJIT President Joel S. Bloom praised him as a “dear friend of the university” and an ambitious innovator who early on embraced research partnerships across disciplines and collaborations with industry.

Davé describes himself as naturally interdisciplinary because he tackles interesting problems wherever he finds them. Sometimes new topics arise out of interesting conversations with colleagues at NJIT and on other campuses in entirely different fields. His outreach extends to New Jersey schools.

Each summer, he and Bilgili invite high school science teachers from across the region to spend six weeks at NJIT doing pharmaceutical research with professors and graduate students in labs across campus, helping to advance the effectiveness of medications while also gathering material and lesson plans that will energize their classes. They have secured funding to allow a dozen teachers each year to participate each year in the NSF’s Research Experiences for Teachers program.

“This program gives teachers direct experience with industry-relevant science and engineering research as well,” he noted in an interview last year. “It not only revitalizes them professionally but makes them more effective in conveying the relevance and the societal impact of pursuing STEM fields and channeling their students into them.”

Tracey Regan