Chemical and biomolecular engineering professor Diwakar Shukla has been named among the most influential bioengineering researchers globally by a leading journal in the field: Industrial and Engineering Chemistry Research, which the American Chemical Society publishes. The journal editors identify early career researchers worldwide based on the quality and impact of their research.

“This award recognizes the breadth of biomolecular engineering research from my lab that aims to identify the diverse roles of molecular machinery that can be harnessed to create better crops, pharmaceuticals, and much more,” Shukla said. “Thank you to my students, collaborators, and colleagues for their support.” 

As a 2021 Influential Early Career Researcher in Bioengineering, Shukla’s work is featured in a special issue of the journal, “Recent Advances in Machine Learning Variant Effect Prediction Tools for Protein Engineering.” In this review, recent advances in variant effect prediction (VEP) are discussed as tools for protein engineering, focusing on techniques incorporating gains from the broader ML community and challenges in estimating biomolecular functional differences. Primary developments highlighted include convolutional neural networks, graph neural networks, and natural language embeddings for protein sequences.

His research is at the intersection of physical chemistry and plant biology; his lab develops physics-based simulations that provide detailed information about the structure and dynamics of molecular machinery in plants. They aim to understand the sequence-structure-function relationship of plant proteins and develop computational methods for exploring this relationship for protein engineering efforts. 

Shukla earned a bachelor’s and a master’s of technology degree from the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) in Bombay, India. He went on to earn a master’s of science and a doctorate in chemical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His efforts have been recognized with several recent awards, including the Journal of Physical Chemistry and PHYS Division Lectureship Award from the American Chemical Society; a Maximizing Investigator Research Award from the National Institutes of Health; and Lincoln Excellence for Assistant Professor (LEAP) Scholar and Dean’s Award for Excellence in Research from the University of Illinois.

– Written by Claire Benjamin, Associate Director of Communications

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