Fox Faculty Award for Accomplishments in Teaching, Research/Creative Activity: Philip Stewart, Spring Awards of Excellence, Academic Year 2021-22. Portrait of Philip Stewart

Phil Stewart

Phil Stewart has been awarded the Fox Faculty Award, which recognizes outstanding teaching, research, scholarship, creativity and mentorship. The award comes with a $3,325 honorarium and is sponsored by the Martin Fox Family and the Office of Academic Affairs.

Stewart, a Regents Professor in the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering, is known for his central role in making MSU a world leader in the study of biofilms, the aggregates of bacteria and other microbes that form on wet surfaces such as medical implants and industrial piping.

Stewart was recruited to MSU in 1991, a year after MSU received a major grant from the National Science Foundation to launch what would become the Center for Biofilm Engineering. He served as the center’s director for 11 years, leading it through a critical period to become self-sustaining. In this role, he engaged new faculty, created opportunities for postdoctoral researchers, mentored graduate students and built a vibrant cadre of international visitors.

Stewart’s research papers have made seminal contributions across the field of biofilm engineering, from explaining how chlorine — the active disinfectant in bleach — fails to penetrate a biofilm, to his recent work imaging the contest between an infectious biofilm and white blood cells. His research has creatively blended concepts and tools from chemical engineering, molecular biology, biophysics, transport phenomena, microbial physiology and immunology.

Stewart is also known for his teaching and mentorship, having supervised 38 undergraduate researchers and served as a graduate adviser for 34 graduate students. His undergraduate research students made him proud with their success: 10 of them published first-author papers in peer-reviewed journals — six of which have been cited more than 100 times and one of which has more than 1000 citations.

“Phil has a mastery of the subject matter and can teach complex material in a way that’s accessible to students of diverse backgrounds,” said Brett Gunnink, dean of MSU’s Norm Asbjornson College of Engineering. “He meets students where they are, on their terms.”