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SDSU’s Basu receives NSF CAREER award for breakthrough research in respiratory fluid dynamics


Saikat Basu, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering in South Dakota State University's Jerome J. Lohr College of Engineering, has been awarded a five-year, $540,428 grant through the National Science Foundation's Faculty Early Career Development Program.

The NSF CAREER award — one of NSF's most prestigious — supports early-career faculty members "who have the potential to serve as academic role models in research and education and to lead advances in the mission of their department or organization."

"I sincerely thank the National Science Foundation for this honor and South Dakota State University and the Jerome J. Lohr College of Engineering for supporting my research vision," said Basu, whose work helps explain the mechanics underlying respiratory disease spread.

A fluid mechanic by training, Basu, who has been with SDSU since 2019, will continue his groundbreaking research connecting fluid dynamics and virology. For this specific project, titled "The Contagion Science: Integration of inhaled transport mechanics principles inside the human upper respiratory tract at multi-scales," he will study airborne transmissions of respiratory pathogens and the fluid physics associated with inhaled transport along the human upper airway.

"Some of the challenging problems will be on the vortex dynamics in such complex geometries and how it may impact pathogen transport inside our respiratory cavities," Basu explained. "We will develop sophisticated theoretical and computational fluid dynamics models for inhaled transport of air and pathogens inside anatomically realistic human respiratory tracts. The flow physics findings will be linked to the biology of pathogens to model infection onset parameters, for example, the infectious dose of sample pathogens. We will verify the flow models through collaborative experiments conducted by Dr. Sunny Jung at Cornell University and Dr. Samik Bhattacharya at the University of Central Florida."

The project broadly aims to derive a foundational understanding of inhaled aerial transport of pathogen-bearing particulates across various spatiotemporal scales within realistic upper airway domains built from computed tomography imaging. The findings are expected to inform new multi-scale approaches for predicting the onset of respiratory diseases.

"The work is anticipated to revolutionize our understanding of how fluid mechanics impacts airborne transmission inside our respiratory systems," Basu said.

The project will have multiple educational components, including the development of a mentorship framework for teachers and students at Native American high schools and a partnership with SDSU's College of Nursing to communicate perspectives on respiratory care.

"Congratulations to Dr. Basu, and thank you for your patience, persistence and grit in pursuit of bold and trailblazing research," said Rajesh Kavasseri, associate dean for research for SDSU's Lohr College of Engineering. "The college values your contributions in elevating the status of our research enterprise."

Basu art

According to Kavasseri, Basu's research is the first of its kind in blending transport phenomena characterized through fluid dynamics with virological and epidemiological parameters, especially in the respiratory cavity.

Basu will also incorporate his paintings and sketches — art being one of his key passions beyond mathematics and engineering — into the project activities to demonstrate the role of innovative fine arts in science communication.

"I dedicate this award to my maternal grandmother, Bhabani Nandini Kar, who we lost a couple weeks back," Basu said. "Her unwavering spirit will continue to inspire all my endeavors."