Robert Prud'homme


Robert “Bob” Prud’homme, professor of chemical and biological engineering, transferred to emeritus status on September 1, 2023. His expertise in chemical engineering has led to the development of treatments for many of the world’s most devastating diseases, with a special focus on drugs that can be distributed across the developing world.

Over the past twenty years, Bob and his team have invented and refined a mixing process called Flash NanoPrecipitation (FNP), a technique that has made a major impact on drug manufacturing and has been adopted globally to produce inexpensive and highly stable medicines. Where previous batch-based production led to inconsistent results, FNP works continuously and yields highly consistent drug particles. Bob’s work has advanced treatments for malaria, toxoplasmosis, diarrhea, tuberculosis, and cancer. The FNP process is a foundational technique for manufacturing the COVID-19 mRNA vaccines first produced in 2020. He has said that seeing his work enable COVID vaccines and anti-malarial drugs has been among his most rewarding accomplishments. He holds more than one hundred patents.

Bob was born in 1948 in California and grew up around Phoenix, Arizona. His father worked as a salesman for General Electric and traveled often, while his mother turned their house into the center of the local kids’ activities, encouraging them to explore the world freely and with great curiosity. That curiosity stuck with Bob and has driven him to excel at a great diversity of pursuits, within the academy and in the wide world beyond the Ivy League.

Bob is an avid fly fisherman, with weekly outings in northern New Jersey and regular expeditions to remote parts of Colorado, Utah, and Alaska. He has eleven grandchildren, whom he cherishes and writes about extensively each year in the holiday newsletter; he stays active in his church, hosting regular Bible study groups; and — to his family’s delight — he loves making large batches of tamales, a taste that must have developed during his childhood in the Southwest.

Bob went to Stanford University as an undergraduate student and earned a degree in chemical engineering in 1969. He then joined the U.S. Army as an officer and served two years in the Vietnam War, rising to the rank of captain. On returning to the U.S., he served an additional year as an environmental engineer in the Armaments Command, earning a Bronze Star for his achievements. After leaving the Army, Bob entered a graduate studies program in environmental science and public policy at Harvard University, then went on to get his Ph.D. in chemical engineering from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Bob joined Princeton as an assistant professor of chemical engineering in 1978. He has since held positions, during sabbatical leaves, at AT&T Bell Laboratories and at the University of Sydney in Australia. He served for a decade on the Board of Directors for the American Institute for Chemical Engineering’s (AIChE) Materials Science and Engineering Division, and he has served in a number of roles within the Society of Rheology, including vice president from 2005 to 2007 and president from 2007 to 2009. His passion as an engineer is to translate science into technologies that benefit society. This has motivated his involvement with numerous companies during the course of his career, including Merck, GSK, Schlumberger, Halliburton, Proctor and Gamble, Exxon, and BASF. He served on scientific advisory boards for American Cyanamid, Dow Chemical Company, and BASF. He has also been involved in the founding of five startup companies: Rheometrics Scientific, Sphera, Nimbus, Thrive, and Optimeos Life Sciences.

More recently, Bob has developed a crucial partnership with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to adapt his FNP technology for large-scale global health initiatives. Toward similar ends, he has collaborated with Pfizer, Genentech, Merck, GSK, Johnson and Johnson, Janssen, Eli Lilly, and other top pharmaceutical companies on nanoparticle drug delivery. He co-founded a biotech startup company, Optimeos Life Sciences, to translate his nanoparticle technology into a platform for broad commercial use and societal impact. Beyond FNP, Bob has made significant contributions in a range of other areas including, among others, biopolymers, gels, and emulsions. As a scholar, he has amassed more than 40,000 citations.

As a faculty member of the Department of Chemical Engineering, Bob founded Princeton’s undergraduate program in engineering biology in 1982, which he ran until 2014. That program helped to establish Princeton’s intellectual interest in bioengineering, vis-à-vis teaching and research in this department, which became the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering in 2010. The bioengineering institute currently under development can be seen as an outgrowth of the earlier effort that Bob pioneered.

In 2022, Bob was inducted into the National Academy of Inventors, and he received the AIChE Nanoscale Science and Engineering Award. In 2020, he received the inaugural Princeton Dean for Research Award for Distinguished Innovation, and in 2018 he was awarded the Research Council of New Jersey’s Edison Patent Award for the original 2002
FNP invention.

 In his forty-five years as a teacher and mentor, he has earned a broad reputation among both graduate and undergraduate students as an affable, approachable professor who is generous with his time. That reputation made him one of the most popular mentors in the department. He advised more than fifty Ph.D. and more than one hundred undergraduate
senior theses.

 His students have risen to the very heights of their fields, in both academia and industry. Many have tenure at major research universities, and many more are executives at large companies across the energy, pharmaceutical, and biotech industries. Bob’s impact has resonated across the globe, saved and improved an unknowably great number of lives, and helped shape the world in lasting and important ways, not only in the direct application of his deep research and innovations but just as much
in his work training dozens of today’s leaders.

Written on behalf of the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering faculty.