Moh El-Naggar

Dean's Professor of Physics and Astronomy and Professor of Physics and Astronomy and Chemistry
Moh El-Naggar


Mohamed Y. El-Naggar is Dean’s Professor of Physics and Astronomy, and Professor of Physics, Biological Sciences, and Chemistry at the University of Southern California. El-Naggar and his interdisciplinary group investigate biological electron transfer and energy conversion with special emphasis on the interface between biotic and abiotic systems. Their work, which has important implications for fundamental cell physiology, renewable energy, biofuels, and environmental remediation, may also lead to the development of new bioelectronics that combine the exquisite biochemical control of nature with the synthetic building blocks of nanotechnology. Towards this goal, El-Naggar is currently the director of a 5-year Department of Defense funded multi-university research initiative on Living Electronics.

El-Naggar received a B.S. degree from Lehigh University (2001), followed by M.S. (2002) and Ph.D. (2006) degrees from the California Institute of Technology. El-Naggar was awarded the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE) by President Obama in 2014. In 2012, he was named one of Popular Science’s ‘Brilliant 10’, the magazine’s annual honor roll of ‘the 10 most promising young scientists whose innovations will change the world’. In 2010, El-Naggar received a Department of Defense Young Investigator Program (YIP) Award, from the Air Force Office of Scientific Research.


  • Ph.D. Engineering and Applied Science, California Institute of Technology, 2007
    • Postdoctoral Researcher, University of Southern California, 2006-2008
  • Summary Statement of Research Interests

    When most people think of microorganisms, like bacteria, they think of the ones that might make you sick. But that is actually a small slice of the microbial world. What if microbes, the oldest and most successful inhabitants of our planet, present the solutions to humanity’s most pressing problems?

    My research team studies electric bacteria. Each of these tiny cells, about a hundredth of the width of a human hair, can pull off an amazing trick. As part of their metabolism, they move electrons from the inside of the cells to surfaces outside the cells, a process called extracellular electron transfer. Just like we humans breathe oxygen, electric bacteria evolved this trick to ‘breathe rocks’ in environments like deep under the Earth’s surface.

    My lab uses advanced imaging and electronics to understand the molecules responsible for these electron conduits that link the living world – bacteria – to the non-living world of rocks and minerals.

    Remarkably, it turns out that we can also take advantage of these conduits to wire up bacteria to metal or semiconductor technologies to extract renewable energy, make biofuels, or build new bioelectronics.

    With these discoveries, it is becoming possible to build biological batteries and fuel cells where bacteria treat waste and convert it to electricity. It’s also becoming possible to reverse the process, inject electricity – like from solar panels – into microbes that capture carbon dioxide and make biofuels.

    More recently, we started pushing the envelope to ask whether we can build new technologies where living genetically programmable cells fabricate or plug into more traditional electronics that you’re familiar with – living electronics.

    Our work underscores how curiosity-driven research has powered practical innovations. And when we think about the biggest problems of energy and sustainability, sometimes we might want to look at the smallest solutions possible.

    • Dornsife Dean’s Professor, Dean’s Professor of Physics, 2021
    • USC Endowed Chair, Robert D. Beyer (‘81) Early Career Chair in Natural Sciences and Assistant Professor of Physics, Biological Sciences, and Chemistry, 2015/09/01-2020/06/30
    • Blavatnik Scholar and Finalist for the Blavatnik National Awards (Life Sciences), 2017-2018
    • Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE), 2013-2014
    • 2013 Raubenheimer Awardee for Outstanding Junior Faculty Member, 2013
    • DoD Young Investigator Program Award, 2009-2013
    • Named as one of Popular Science’s “Brilliant 10”, 2012-2013
    • USC Zumberge Research and Innovation Fund Award, Winner of the large Interdisciplinary award (with Urbashi Mitra), 2011/07/01-2012/08/16
    • Applied Materials, Inc. Doctoral Fellow, 2004-2006
    • The Lehigh University Alumni Association Prize, 2000-2001
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