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CAS Faculty Member Receives NSF CAREER Award

Posted: April 16, 2013

Congratulations to Dr. Howard Salis, of the Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering.

Congratulations to Dr. Howard Salis, Assistant Professor of Biological Engineering and Chemical Engineering for being a recipient of the National Science Foundation's Early Career Development (CAREER) Award. The CAREER is the National Science Foundation’s most prestigious award for the support of junior faculty who exemplify the role of teacher-scholars through outstanding research, excellent education and the integration of education and research.

Dr. Salis’ research lab employs biophysical models to rationally engineer and optimize cellular metabolism for the production of high-value chemical products as part of a nationwide push to replace petrochemical-based products with biorenewable ones. A key challenge has been the conversion of non-food plant biomass (lignocellulose) into inexpensive sources of sugar that are readily consumed by micro-organisms. He was awarded the CAREER for his lab's work on engineering micro-organisms to eat the furan inhibitors found in these sugar sources, improving their ability to manufacture chemical products from lignocellulosic feedstock.

The CAREER award is also focused on education and outreach. Dr. Salis will be recruiting high school teachers to create biotechnology labs that will teach engineering principles while illustrating the influence of biotechnology on daily life.

Technology from Dr. Salis' lab has been commercialized by a Penn State start-up company, De Novo DNA (http://www.denovodna.com), that helps biotech and pharmaceutical companies to rationally design synthetic DNA sequences and engineer cellular behavior for medical, agricultural, and industrial applications.