Inaugural Rath Award Winner: Toriana Vigil

Toriana Vigil, a UVA graduate student in Chemical Engineering in the School of Engineering and Applied Science, is the inaugural winner of the Bhakta Rath Research Award. Her research focuses on engineering new biomineralization strategies for rare earth elements and metal oxides, and is supported by her advisor, Bryan Berger.

The Bhakta Rath Research Award, established in 2022 by a gift from Dr. Bhakta B. Rath and his wife, Sushama Rath, offers an opportunity to promote and reward excellence in Public Impact Research (PIR) for graduate students or postdocs and their collaborating UVA faculty member. The award recognizes those who conduct exceptional research in anticipation of the future needs of the nation.

Bryan Berger, UVA Associate Professor, and his lab study protein structure and function and develop biomolecular tools and technologies to solve important biomedical, environmental and industrial challenges. A synthetic biology approach for rare earth element detection and recovery is a greener and less expensive way to help meet the growing need the elements that make up the batteries that power our phones, computers and the catalytic converters for our cars.

Berger is the founder of Lytos Tech, a company that received a competitive Virginia Catalyst award to develop biofungicides that help protect crops while contributing to organic sustainable agricultural practice.

“We’re grateful to Dr. Bhakta and Sushama Rath for their gift to UVA, and we’re confident that the project proposed by Tori Vigil and Bryan Berger has the potential to revolutionize the way we create the technology we need for a greener future,” Ram Ramasubramanian, the Vice President for Research, said. “We are confident that we will be hearing more about Toriana Vigil and her research in the future.”

Toriana Vigil and Bryan Berger
Bryan Berger and Toriana Vigil