After a highly competitive process, Bahareh Behkam, an assistant professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering in the College of Engineering at Virginia Tech, has been selected to attend the National Academies Keck Futures Initiative conference in November in Irvine, California.

This year, the conference will focus on “Collective Behavior: From Cells to Societies,” which fits in with her interest in cognitive organisms and how they cooperate in comparison to organisms without sophisticated thinking processes. 

An example would be analyzing communication in a flock of birds versus a colony of bacteria.

Behkam’s research is at the intersections of physical chemistry, biophysics, and bio-hybrid microrobotics.

In a "think-tank" style conference, the intellectual horsepower of up to 150 attendees is harnessed to initiate a new synthesis of the regulation, dynamics, and evolution of social behavior from microbes to metazoans. 

Attendees are awarded up to $1 million in seed grants to enable the further pursuit of new ideas and connections facilitiated by the conference.

In 2009, Behkam founded the Micro/Nanoscale Biotic/Abiotic Systems Engineering Lab within the Department of Mechanical Engineering, and also retains a faculty appointment in the School of Biomedical Engineering and Sciences, as well as within the Macromolecules and Interfaces Institute.

Her work is supported by the Institute for Critical Technology and Applied Science.

Behkam received her bachelor's degree from Sharif University of Technology (Iran) and a master's degree and Ph.D. from Carnegie Mellon University.

The National Academies Keck Futures Initiative — whose mission is to foster cross-disciplinary interactions that transcend traditional borders, connecting otherwise thematically isolated scientists, engineers and doctors — is a program of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, and the Institute of Medicine, with support from the W.M. Keck Foundation.  

Written by Emily Kathleen Alberts.

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