Elio Challita

Elio Challita (PhD 2023) is the second person from Georgia Tech ever to be named a Fellow of the Schmidt Science Fellows program, which provides a $110,000 stipend per year to postdoctoral scholars to solve the world’s most pressing issues.

He is one of 32 early-career researchers in the 2024 cohort of Schmidt Science Fellows, joining a community of scientists and supporters who seek to drive sector-wide change by pursuing interdisciplinary research. The 2024 Fellows represent 17 nationalities nominated by 26 of the world’s leading institutions across North America, Europe, and Asia.

Each Fellow will undertake a year-long Science Leadership Program to develop the skills, experience, and networks necessary to become the next generation of interdisciplinary science leaders, in addition to their one- to two-year research positions at various institutions.

Challita, who earned his PhD from Georgia Tech in Bioengineering in August 2023, is now a postdoctoral researcher at the Harvard Microrobotics Laboratory led by Professor Robert J. Wood. He will work there from 2024 to 2026 and plans to subsequently find a professorship.

At Georgia Tech, he was a member of the laboratory of Saad Bhamla, an assistant professor in the School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, with whom he studied how ultrafast invertebrates (Insects, hexapods, arachnids) grapple with fluid dynamics challenges to carry out essential biological functions (feeding,excretion, predator avoidance, etc.).

At Harvard, he is now developing insect-scale, bioinspired microrobots for use in environmental monitoring and research-and-rescue operations. 

Challita, a native of Kartaba, Lebanon, was inspired in part by the devastating explosion in the Port of Beirut in 2020, which was caused by the unsafe storage of ammonium nitrate. He believes that the risk-detection capabilities of the tiny robots he is developing could inform first responders about potential hazards and help prevent disasters.

He became interested in environmental applications for the robot technology during his PhD studies when he made research-related to trips to the Amazon and observed illegal gold mining operations that led to mercury deposits in the river. Swarms of tiny robots collecting samples could help determine the extent of the damage to the overall environment there, Challita said.

Challita, who also holds a master’s degree in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Georgia, was the first member of his family to finish high school. His parents could not complete their education due to the civil war in Lebanon during their youth.

Of winning the Schmidt Fellow, he said, “It’s unbelievable honestly. It’s such a great honor. When I first saw the email informing me that I’d won, I really couldn’t believe it. I had to get a friend to read it to be sure.”

Schmidt Science Fellows was established in 2018 and is an initiative of Schmidt Sciences, a philanthropic organization founded by Eric and Wendy Schmidt to advance exploration and discovery that deepen our understanding of the natural world and develop solutions to global issues. Since its inception, Schmidt Science Fellows has supported 177 Fellows across seven cohorts, nominated by 62 institutes across the globe. The program is delivered in partnership with the Rhodes Trust.

“Breaking down silos and harnessing the power of interdisciplinary science holds the key to tackling humanity's most pressing challenges, from global health and protecting our environment to ensuring we can develop new technologies that are both safe and foster societal good,” said Eric Schmidt. “The 2024 Schmidt Science Fellows are exceptionally talented in their fields and with the Program’s support we hope to enhance the impact of their work.”