• Thursday, April 18, 2024
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Meet John Dabiri, Nigerian NVIDIA director who became a professor at 25

John Dabiri

John Oluseun Dabiri is a Nigerian-American aeronautics engineer and centennial chair professor at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), with appointments in the Graduate Aerospace Laboratories (GALCIT) and mechanical engineering.

The 44-year-old researcher is best known for his research on the hydrodynamics of jellyfish propulsion and the design of a vertical-axis wind farm adapted from schooling fish, following his first doctorate in 2005.

Dabiri’s career follows a path to the board of directors at NVIDIA in 2020 when it was valued at $323.24. Today, the company has a market cap of $2.314 Trillion and is the third biggest tech company in the world.

Early life and education

Dabiri was born in 1980, 5 years after his parents immigrated to Toledo, Ohio from Nigeria. His father was a mechanical engineer and taught mathematics at a local community college. His mother was a computer scientist who started a software development company.

He was educated at a small Baptist high school, where he graduated top of his class in 1997, and was accepted by Princeton University where he earned a BSE degree summa cum laude in Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering.

Dabiri later pursued a Master’s in Aeronautics at California Institute of Technology, Caltech where he also earned his PhD in Bioengineering and Aeronautics.

His early work at Caltech involved rockets, jets, and helicopter design, after picking up a passion for engineering while watching his father work.

Caltech, Stanford, and NVIDIA

Dabiri has accumulated 28 research grants across his career, focusing on unsteady fluid mechanics and flow physics, and particular emphasis on topics relevant to biology, energy, and the environment.

At 25, Dabiri became a Professor of Aeronautics and Bioengineering at Caltech where he stayed for 10 years. During that time, he embodied other roles, including serving as Director of the Center for Bioinspired Wind Energy, Chair of the Faculty, and Dean of Students.

In 2015, Dabiri joined Stanford University as a professor in the School of Engineering where he taught civil, environmental, and mechanical engineering until 2019.

During the Covid pandemic in 2020, he joined NVIDIA as a director on its board. At the time, NVIDIA was valued at $323.24 billion. As of March 2024, NVIDIA has a market cap of $2.314 trillion, making NVIDIA the world’s third most valuable company by market cap.

The company recently reported a record quarterly revenue of $22.1 billion, up 22 percent from the previous quarter and up 265 percent from a year ago.

Dabiri’s interests extend to philanthropy, serving on the board of  Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, an organisation that supports scientific discovery and environmental conservation.

Dabiri labs and wind solutions

Dabiri heads the Dabiri Lab at Caltech, which conducts research at the intersections of fluid mechanics, energy and environment, and biology.

In 2011, he established the Caltech Field Laboratory for Optimized Wind Energy (FLOWE), a wind farm which investigates the energy exchange in an array of vertical-axis wind turbines to solve environmental problems.

He also started a company, Scalable Wind Solutions, to commercialize the software used to optimally place the turbines. This has also led to the Navy funding development of an underwater craft that propels on these concepts which needs 30% less energy.

He is the director of the Biological Propulsion Laboratory, which examines fluid transport with applications in aquatic locomotion, fluid dynamic energy conversion, and cardiac flows.

His work shows the potential of interdisciplinary research to bridge the gap between biology and engineering to solve complex problems.

Honours and recognition

In 2010, Dabiri was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship for his theoretical engineering work, receiving the “Genius Grant,” the National Science Foundation Alan T. Waterman award.

His honours include a Young Investigator Award from the Office of Naval Research, a Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE), and being named one of Popular Science magazine’s “Brilliant 10” scientists in 2008.

In 2012, Bloomberg Businessweek magazine listed him among its technology innovators. In addition, MIT Technology Review magazine named him one of its 35 innovators under 35 in 2013, and in 2014, he was elected a Fellow of the American Physical Society.

Since 2021, Dabiri has been a member of President Biden’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) and Energy Secretary Granholm’s Energy Advisory Board (SEAB).

He also serves on the Board of Trustees of the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation and previously served as a member of the National Academies’ Committee on Science, Technology, and Law.

Family ties

Dabiri is one of 3 children born to his migrant parents. His brother, Gabriel Yomi Dabiri is the New York Office Managing Partner at Polsinelli, a law firm in the US.

Gabriel was named by Crain’s New York Business as one of their 2022 Notable Diverse Leaders in Law and was honoured by The American Lawyer as part of the 2022 Northeast Trailblazers for leadership and innovation.