Maher Damak

Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Charged Polymers for Sticky Agricultural Sprays, and Water Recovery in Cooling Towers
Graduate Winner

Maher Damak is a PhD candidate in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Science has always been one of Maher’s passions, including the rigor of mathematics embedded within science, and the beauty of physics, which turns natural phenomena into equations. Upon taking his first thermodynamics and electromagnetism courses and learning that a simple set of equations can explain the greenhouse effect, why water freezes, and why the sky is blue, he was convinced that scientific research was the right path for him.

Gaining international experience has always been important to Maher. When he was 18 years old, he left his home country of Tunisia to study at École Polytechnique in Palaiseau, France, receiving a master’s degree in energy science in 2013. Maher then joined the Varanasi Research Group at MIT for his graduate studies, earning a master’s degree in mechanical engineering in 2015. As a current PhD candidate in the same group, he studies interfacial phenomena and fluid mechanics with Associate Professor Kripa Varanasi serving as his advisor. Maher invented a new technology that greatly enhances the ability of agricultural chemicals being sprayed on plants to stick to the plants as intended, instead of rolling off into the soil. The technology consists of polymers that are biocompatible and biodegradable so they will not induce any additional pollution or health hazards. He also invented a novel method of using electric fields for water recovery in cooling towers used at power plants that will reduce the amount of water needed to produce energy. Maher earned the 2018 $15,000 “Eat it!” Lemelson-MIT Student Prize for his inventive work.

In addition to his education, Maher particularly values community and mentoring as a part of his life. During his undergraduate studies, one of his most rewarding volunteer experiences was working for eight months in an economically challenged neighborhood in the suburbs of Paris for Asphalte, a nonprofit association committed to helping immigrants integrate into French society and assisting their children with their education. His responsibilities included mentoring a group of at-risk youth, helping them with schoolwork, organizing review sessions on various subjects, and hosting interactive sessions where they could express their opinions and engage in critical thinking.

At École Polytechnique, Maher was the president of the Cultural Festival Association, a student association that promotes international events and organizes cultural activities on campus. While at MIT he founded Tunisia@MIT, a student association geared toward promoting Tunisian culture and strengthening the bonds of the Tunisian community at MIT and in the Boston area. He also works with high school students in Tunisia who are considering applying to U.S. colleges and served as an Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program mentor to undergraduate students at MIT.

Maher is passionate about the water-food-energy nexus and after graduating from MIT, he is excited to pursue an entrepreneurial path to bring his inventions to market. He has already co-founded a company, Infinite Cooling, which will commercialize his water recovery invention and bring greater efficiency to the way that power plants use water to conserve this precious resource. As an entrepreneur, he plans to bring his technologies to those who need them, helping to mitigate some of the biggest problems that humanity faces in the 21st century.