4 May 1985 ( age 34)
Physics Engineering, Materials Science
University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign
MIT Technology Review Innovators Under 35 (TR35), Inventor Category,
Forbes 30 Under 30, Science Category
Science and Sci Life Prize for Young Scientists, Translational Medicine Category Winner,
NARSAD Young Investigator Award
Canan Dağdeviren was born in Istanbul, Turkey on May 4, 1985. She is the oldest of three, and has two younger brothers. She completed her primary education in İzmit, where she also attended middle school. However, her family was forced to leave the city after the 1999 İzmit earthquake, and she continued her high school education in Adana.
Dagdeviren was drawn to scientific exploration from a very young age. In an interview with Discover Magazine, she recalls being fascinated by smashing rocks together and producing sparks, saying “I loved the idea that you deform this material and create sparks — it was very exciting.” Another source of inspiration came from a book that her father gave her on the life of Marie Curie. She quickly became infatuated not just with Curie’s work, but also with the research conducted by her husband Pierre Curie, who Dagdeviren considers her “scientific love.” Pierre and his brother Jacques first described piezoelectricity in 1880, a concept that would later serve as the driving force behind many of Dagdeviren’s own projects and applications.
Finally, at the heart of her work is Dagdeviren’s own family. An early source of inspiration was learning about her grandfather. Even as a young girl, she promised herself that someday she would create technology that would decode and monitor similar health issues to honor his memory.
Education & Academic Career
Canan Dagdeviren studied Physics Engineering at the Hacettepe University in Ankara, graduating in 2007. She obtained a Master of Science degree from Sabancı University in Istanbul, and won a Fulbright scholarship for study in the United States. With this scholarship, she chose to conduct research in materials science and engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign, where she focused on exploring patterning techniques and creating piezoelectric biomedical systems. Here, one of the projects that she developed was a conformable, piezoelectric, energy harvester that converts mechanical energy from internal organ movements into electric energy to power medical devices. It is soft and flexible and conforms to the heart as well as other soft tissues. This technology could extend the battery life of implanted electronics or eliminate the need for battery replacement, sparing patients from repeated operations and the risk of surgical complications. In August 2014 she received her PhD degree. Her advisor was John A. Rogers, and the title of her PhD thesis was Ferroelectric/Piezoelectric Materials Flexible/Stretchable/Wearable/Implantable Sensors, Actuators, Mechanical Energy Harvesters, Transducers, Microfabrication.
Dagdeviren then went to Cambridge, MA to become a Junior Fellow in the Society of Fellows at Harvard University—the first Turkish scientist in the history of the Harvard Society to do so—as well as a postdoctoral research associate at MIT’s Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research. Her postdoctoral advisor was MIT Institute Professor Robert S. Langer.
Currently, Dagdeviren is an Assistant Professor at MIT. She teaches a course on conformable devices every semester and also serves as a freshman advisor. Recently, she was invited to present to the World. Minds community at the annual invitation-only symposium in Zurich, Switzerland. Her most recent research and achievements are summarized in her World. Minds talk.
Projects & Publications
The yellow box is a cleanroom used by Conformable Decoders at the MIT Media Lab, which Dagdeviren designed and constructed from the ground up in 2017. When she was a PhD student, she promised herself that if she ever had the opportunity to build her own space, it would be physically transparent so that anyone passing by would have the ability to observe, take notes, and learn from her without needing any special permissions. This inclusivity is part of what makes YellowBox such a unique scientific environment. Another unique aspect of YellowBox is that it is organized using the 5S Methodology. 5S is a system that uses five guiding practices to organize a workspace for efficiency and effectiveness: Sort, Set in Order, Shine, Standardize, and Sustain. Essentially, 5S is an organizational methodology that uses visual labels—color-coded based on functionality—to organize spaces and increase safety, identifying potential hazards and procedural information. As a result of this highly organized and efficient system, YellowBox achieved a Green Labs certification by Environmental Health & Safety (EHS) in 2017—the first research lab at the MIT Media Lab to receive this designation since its founding in 1985.
PZT MEH project
The PZT MEH project has been described as “mechanically invisible human dynamos.” This project seeks to develop conformal piezoelectric patches integrated into personal garments to extract energy from body movements such as the movement of arms, fingers, and legs. In the future, this work could improve the quality of life for people and potentially provide environmentally friendly power. Since these energy harvesters are powered by human motion instead of battery power, the need for replacements and high risk/high-cost surgical procedures to change depleted batteries could be eliminated.
The MINDS project introduced the development of an implantable, remotely controllable, miniaturized neural drug-delivery system permitting dynamic adjustment of therapy with pinpoint spatial accuracy. This device can chemically modulate local neuronal activity in small-animal (rodent) and large-animal (nonhuman primate) models, while simultaneously allowing the recording of neural activity to enable feedback control.
PZT GI-S project
The PZT GI-S project is essential “a Fitbit for the stomach.” Dagdeviren and fellow collaborators have designed an ingestible, flexible piezoelectric device that senses mechanical deformation within the gastric cavity. They demonstrated the capabilities of the sensor in both in vitro and ex vivo simulated gastric models, quantified its key behaviors in the gastrointestinal tract using computational modeling, and validated its functionality in awake and ambulating swine. The proof-of-concept device may lead to the development of ingestible piezoelectric devices that might safely sense mechanical variations and harvest mechanical energy inside the gastrointestinal tract for the diagnosis and treatment of motility disorders, as well as for monitoring ingestion in bariatric applications.
The Bees of Science art exhibition
In June 2019, Dagdeviren blended media, art, and science to create an exhibition that was featured in the lobby of the Media Lab for 8 months. The exhibition displayed her students’ work and was titled The Bees of Science. In a blog post, she explained “Like bees, my students work at the intersection of nature, art, and science, drawing on both their experiences in diverse fields of science and engineering and also their diverse cultural backgrounds, much as the bees draw nectar from a host of different flowers. They then apply their minds, hearts, and hands to create unique micro- and nano-scale, mechanically adaptive electromechanical systems for human health monitoring—their scientific “honey.”
Awards & Honors
- In 2014, Dagdeviren became the first Turkish scientist to be elected as a Junior Fellow of Harvard.
- In 2015, MIT Technology Review named her among the “Top 35 Innovators Under 35” (inventor category), and Forbes magazine selected her as one of the “Top 30 Under 30 in Science.” The following year she received many honors, including being named a Gifted Citizen by Ciudad de las Ideas of Puebla, Mexico, and the Spotlight Health Scholar by Aspen Institute. She placed first in the Medical Innovation Category of Ten Outstanding Young Persons of the World (TOYP) by Junior Chamber International (JCI), and received the 2017 Innovation and Technology Delegate of the American Academy of Achievement Award. Dagdeviren was also awarded the Science and Sci Life Prize for Young Scientists in Translational Medicine Category by Science/AAAS and SciLifeLab, and attended the Nobel Prize Ceremony in Stockholm, Sweden.
- In 2019, Dagdeviren was awarded the Kadir Has University Promising Scientist Award, and recognized in Fortune Turkey’s “40 Under 40.” She was also named as one of the United States’s “87 brightest young engineers” by the National Academy of Engineering (NAE), and took part in the NAE’s 25th annual US Frontiers of Engineering (USFOE) Symposium.
In addition to her work in the materials science and engineering fields, Dagdeviren seeks to inspire an upcoming generation of young scientists, specifically young women pursuing STEM careers. She uses social media as a tool to connect with young minds across the globe, specifically through her Twitter, Instagram and Facebook accounts.
In February 2018, she was invited to speak at the Women in Science in Diplomacy for Sustaining Peace and Development event as part of the celebration of International Day of Women and Girls in Science at the United Nations.
Dagdeviren’s work has been featured in many media outlets, including The Washington Post, IEEE Spectrum, Forbes, Discover Magazine, MedGadget, Stat News, Nature Materials, AP News and more.