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Popular Science names USC physicist among this year’s Brilliant 10

Moh El-Naggar develops physics models that explain why biological processes work the way they do. (Photo/Allison Smith)

USC scientist Moh El-Naggar has been selected as one of this year’s Brilliant 10, Popular Science magazine’s annual honor roll of the 10 most promising young scientists.

El-Naggar, assistant professor of physics at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, will be featured in next month’s issue of the magazine.

A pioneer within the field of biophysics, El-Naggar studies energy conversion and transmission at the interface between living beings, like bacteria, and synthetic surfaces. His work, which has important implications for microbial respiration, may lead to the development of new hybrid materials and renewable energy technologies.

His research is on the edge of a new confluence between physics and biology. Among other things, El-Naggar conducts experiments and develops physics models that explain why biological processes work the way they do.

“I keep one leg in the physics world and one leg in the biological world. The field is so fertile right now — it’s just exploding,” he said.

El-Naggar came to USC in late 2006 to do postdoctoral research and joined the USC Dornsife faculty in January 2009. His work represents a lifelong dream to work in science.

“I don’t think I ever considered anything else,” he said, momentarily flummoxed when asked at what point he decided to become a scientist.

El-Naggar credits fruitful collaborations with other scientists for his meteoric rise in the field — citing a long list of mentors and colleagues, as well as his student research team.

“I met just the right people at the right time,” he said. “[The award] reflects on the team we’ve put together.”

With great colleagues and resources to continue his work, El-Naggar said he feels like he’s found the right place to continue his innovative research.

“We have strong programs led by researchers who are at the top of their fields, all at a single university,” he said. “USC has become the place to do this research.”

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