For her exceptional contributions to the field, Michelle O’Malley, a professor in UC Santa Barbara’s Chemical Engineering Department, has received the inaugural Early Career Award from the Food, Pharmaceuticals and Bioengineering (FP&BE) Division of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE), the world’s leading organization for chemical engineers.
“I am honored to be the first recipient of the Food, Pharmaceutical, and Bioengineering Early Career Award in Chemical Engineering from AIChE,” said O’Malley. “Ever since I first attended the national meeting as a graduate student, I witnessed how AIChE was pushing and shaping the boundaries of traditional chemical engineering. Several years later, it is wonderful to be recognized for the contributions that our laboratory has made – which certainly pushes the boundaries by merging chemical engineering with microbiology, bioprocessing, and synthetic biology.”
O’Malley’s research group focuses on the biotechnological potential of unusual microbes from nature, which may have significant applications when it comes to renewable energy and manufacturing chemicals and drugs. Her most recent work investigated the functions of anaerobic gut fungi, primitive microbes found mainly in large herbivores. The fungi’s enzymes and unique ability to transform cellulose from plants into sugars could offer new sources of biofuels and methods of producing the next generation of pharmaceuticals.
O’Malley’s work has earned her numerous awards and recognitions, including the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE), National Science Foundation Early CAREER Award, Department of Energy’s Early Career Award, and the American Society of Microbiology Award for Early Career Applied and Biotechnological Research. Recently, she was also named one of ten scientists to watch by Science News, and elected a fellow of the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering.
The award will be presented to O’Malley in mid-November during AIChE’s national meeting.