Major gift from Princeton U. alumni names new bioengineering institute

Alumni Gilbert Omenn of the Class of 1961 and Martha Darling of the Class of 1970 have made a transformational gift, as part of the Venture Forward campaign, to name a new bioengineering institute at Princeton University.

The Omenn-Darling Bioengineering Institute will promote new directions in research, education and innovation at the intersection of engineering and the life sciences while serving as the home for new interdisciplinary bioengineering postdoctoral, graduate and undergraduate programs.

“This extraordinary gift from Gil Omenn and Martha Darling will accelerate bioengineering innovation to address some of the 21st century’s most critical challenges,” President Christopher Eisgruber said. “Given Gil and Martha’s exceptional leadership and their scientific and policy achievements, it is especially fitting that the Omenn-Darling Bioengineering Institute will be named for them. This new institute will amplify the university’s strengths at the intersection of engineering, machine learning, public policy and natural sciences, with interdisciplinary collaboration yielding significant benefits to human health and the environment. I am deeply grateful to them both for their vision and friendship.”

Bioengineering research at Princeton is an interdisciplinary endeavor. The Omenn-Darling Bioengineering Institute will include a team of core faculty members and will also convene affiliated faculty from across campus. The current Princeton Bioengineering Initiative, which launched in 2020, has involved faculty from the School of Engineering and Applied Science, the Lewis-Sigler Institute for Integrative Genomics, the Princeton Neuroscience Institute and the departments of molecular biology, physics, chemistry, and ecology and evolutionary biology.

The Bioengineering Initiative has been led by Cliff Brangwynne, the June K. Wu ’92 Professor of Chemical and Biological Engineering. His research has changed how scientists understand cellular organization by linking biology with materials science and engineering, leading to foundational insights about cell functions and suggesting new ways to treat diseases such as cancers, ALS and Alzheimer’s. He has earned many accolades for his work, including being named a MacArthur fellow, a Sloan fellow and a Howard Hughes Medical Investigator.

“Gil and Martha recognize that Princeton must play a leading role in bioengineering, one of the most important fields for humanity this century,” Brangwynne said. “Their fantastic gift will have a major impact on Princeton students and faculty for generations to come.”

The Omenn-Darling Bioengineering Institute will be housed in the new environmental sciences and engineering neighborhood, scheduled to be completed in 2025, and will expand research already underway in the Bioengineering Initiative. The institute’s main areas of focus will be cellular engineering, biomedical instruments and devices, and computational bioengineering. An important part of its work will be to bolster innovation and entrepreneurship as well as ties to the region’s biotech and pharmaceutical industries.

The married couple’s support of the university’s strategic initiative in bioengineering includes an earlier gift: The Gilbert S. Omenn ’61, M.D, Ph.D. and Martha A. Darling ’70 Fund for Grand Challenges was announced in September 2021, supporting initiatives in biology and engineering.

The Omenn-Darling Bioengineering Institute will promote collaboration across disciplines, bringing together scholars and researchers who are exploring experimental and computational methods as well as the ethical and public policy implications of new ideas and technologies.