My aim in writing this blog has been to ensure the voice of chemical engineering is heard in all corners of the world.
Yesterday was a breakthrough moment in terms of recognition, as Robert Langer – chemical engineer and professor from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge, US – was awarded the second ever Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering.
Bob Langer’s achievement demonstrates the importance of chemical engineering on a truly global scale. His pioneering work in drug delivery, tissue engineering and nanotechnology has touched the lives of billions of people.
He has developed a field that, quite simply, didn’t previously exist. This highlights the most important role that chemical engineers play in society today – improving quality of life for all.
Bob isn’t a stranger to those of you who regularly read my blog. In fact, his work has featured several times and demonstrates the breadth of his research: ‘One less trip to Accident and Emergency’; ‘Even chemical engineers can pamper’; ‘Can chemical engineers change the world?’ and ‘Fighting lung cancer with personalised medicine’.
But even this doesn’t truly show the scope of his work. Bob has over 1000 granted or pending patents for research, 22 honorary degrees from Universities across the world and has touched the lives of an estimated 2 billion people with his discoveries.
Bob is also the most cited engineer in history with 170,000 citations from his work!
A panel of selected judges administered by the Royal Academy of Engineering awarded Bob the 2015 Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering for his “revolutionary advances and leadership in engineering at the interface with chemistry and medicine”.
Bob’s interest in chemistry and engineering began at an early age with the gift of a chemistry set from his parents, and this led to him setting up a small laboratory in the basement of his house. He then went to study chemical engineering at Cornell University and received his Doctor of Science from MIT in 1974.
Although Bob could have gone on to work in a huge variety of fields, he chose to stay in academia and develop new and innovative technologies, driven by a desire to directly improve the quality of people’s lives.
This led to him becoming the first person to engineer polymers to control the delivery of large molecular weight drugs. Thus, improving the treatment of diseases such as cancer and mental illness.
Professor Brian Cox – one of the judges – says what makes Bob so unique is that “he developed an engineering solution to a medical problem”:
However, it did not come so easy for Bob and throughout his career he has had to work incredibly hard to achieve his goals. Those of you starting out on your academic careers should note that Bob had his first nine research grants rejected – demonstrating the importance of never giving up!
I am sure you will all join me in offering Bob your congratulations on receiving the UK’s top award for engineering, for all his hard work and his truly global contribution to science and engineering. I look forward to his next discovery and the innovations he will bring to society, today and in the future.