DuPont Celebrates Scientific Innovation by Recognizing Young Professors

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As a science company, DuPont’s continued success largely depends on innovative research and development (R&D). When many of us think of DuPont R&D, our colleagues’ work in the company’s own laboratories and agricultural fields readily comes to mind. Not as obvious is that a significant portion of DuPont’s pipeline of potential new products results from global collaborations between the company and universities, scientific organizations or other companies.

Recognizing the value of these external partnerships, one of DuPont’s strategies is to be a collaborator of choice to champion innovation, education and shared competencies. Almost one hundred years ago, DuPont was among the first companies in the U.S. to establish a program to make grants to universities for their professors. In 1968, DuPont revised this initiative into today’s Young Professor program, which gives grants directly to young professors who have been nominated by a DuPont employee.

This week, DuPont named 14 young faculty members from seven nations to its 2013 Class of Young Professors. Over the next three years, the company will provide this outstanding group with more than $824,000 to support their work in advancing basic science to meet global challenges. In addition to providing unrestricted funding to new faculty, this prestigious program enables DuPont to build future research partnerships with emerging global academic leaders. Over the last 45 years, DuPont has awarded nearly $50 million in grants to greater than 680 young professors in more than 130 institutions, in 14 countries. 

The DuPont Young Professor program is designed to help promising young and untenured research faculty working in areas of interest to DuPont, begin their research careers. Professors are nominated by a member of the DuPont technical staff and the nominator serves as the liaison between the company and the faculty member. During the three-year award, each grant recipient is invited to present a seminar on his or her work to the DuPont research community. In addition, a DuPont liaison will periodically visit the professors at their home institutions to build and reinforce the DuPont name and reputation among students and faculty members.   

Meeting the challenge of providing food, energy and protection for 9 billion people in 2050 requires inclusive innovation, driven by science. Not only is the work of these Young Professors aligned with DuPont’s business interests, their research is focused on helping people meet this critical challenge. Here are the members of the 2013 class of DuPont Young Professors as well as a brief overview of their research:

  • Fredrik Bäckhed: Sahlgrenska Center for Cardiovascular and Metabolic Research/Wallenberg Laboratory, University of Gothenburg, Sweden
    • Dr. Bäckhed’s research focuses on the role of gut microbiota (microorganisms) in fat storage, obesity and body weight. A leading microbiologist, he was one of the key researchers on a team who discovered that gut microbiota have a role in regulating body weight. Dr. Bäckhed has issued a number of publications on potential mechanisms for this regulation. Many global groups are now focusing their work on the interactions between human gut microorganisms and metabolic diseases, such as Type 2 diabetes.
  • Cullen Buie: Laboratory for Energy Microsystems Innovation (LEMI), Department of Mechanical Engineering, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, USA
    • The MIT LEMI, under the direction of Professor Buie, explores the interactions between mass, charge, and heat transfer in advanced energy conversion devices. His research is specifically addressing the surface coatings of different kinds of fuel cells which rely on, for example, hydrogen/proton exchange  membranes, methanol, microbes or novel hydrogen  generation systems.
  • Xing Chen: College of Chemistry and Molecular Engineering, Peking University, China
    • In vertebrates, more than half of the proteins are glycosylated. The glycans play a key role in regulating the properties and functions of the proteins to which they are attached. Dr. Chen is a leading global expert in the field of glycosylation, the most complex and prevalent form of protein post-translational modification. His research group is interested in chemical glycobiology and they are developing state-of-the-art new chemical tools to probe glycosylation.  
  • Paul Dauenhauer: Department of Chemical Engineering, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, USA
    • Professor Dauenhauer’s research is focused on lowering our environmental footprint and moving towards sustainable feedstocks. His expertise is in catalysis, reactor engineering and transport phenomenon. As we move into an age when we need to shift to long term sustainability, the chemistry Professor Dauenhauer is discovering can be utilized to make many of the products that are currently only produced from non-sustainable petroleum feedstocks.
  • Flávio Lemes Fernandes: Instituto de Ciências Agrárias/Entomologia, Universidade Federal de Viçosa, Brazil
    • Dr. Fernandes’ research is aimed at the judicious use of insecticides. His interests are in studying pest complexes, emerging pests, and the integration of insecticides and Bt crops, especially in Brazil. Dr. Fernandes believes in the importance of understanding the pest complexes and the relative importance of new pests for correct application of management practices.  
  • Eric Gaucher: School of Biology, Georgia Institute of Technology, USA
    • Professor Gaucher has pioneered the field of "Evolutionary Synthetic Biology," which uses molecular evolutionary principles to guide the protein engineering field in an exciting and useful direction. His research in reconstructing ancient proteins on early earth not only explores the origins of life, but also has led to useful biotechnology applications. Specifically, Dr. Gaucher is focused on using resurrected ancient proteins as a starting point for additional protein engineering that seeks improved protein functionality.
  • Stewart Gillmor: Laboratorio Nacional de Genómica para la Biodiversidad (Langebio), Centro de Investigación y de Estudios Avanzados (CINVESTAV), Mexico
    • Dr. Gillmor's lab focuses on plant development and morphogenesis, or the biological processes that cause a plant to develop its shape. A specific focus of his research focuses on apomixis, with the goal of controlling apomixis during hybrid seed production.  Apomixis is asexual plant reproduction – reproduction without fertilization.  Apomictically-produced offspring are genetically identical to the parent plant.
  • Prashant Jain: Department of Chemistry, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, USA
    • Dr. Jain’s research interests are in molecular and nano-optics and imaging with the goal of enhancing the understanding and control of energy transport, light-matter interactions, and chemical transformations at nanometer length scales. The theme of the research in the Jain lab hinges understanding how scientists can use light to interface better with molecules and nanostructures. 
  • Richard Lunt: Department of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science, Michigan State University, USA
    • Dr. Lunt is an expert in the field of organic and inorganic excitonic materials for energy applications. His group is currently developing flexible, transparent, power-producing laminates for building integration. These laminates will serve as transparent solar cells and at the same time eliminate the need for low-e coating in windows. Exploiting transparent molecular semiconductors affords exciting opportunities for flexible applications and allows for integration onto any transparent surface from buildings to displays.
  • Shaily Mahendra: Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, University of California, Los Angeles, USA
    • Dr. Mahendra’s work focuses on the role of bacteria and fungi in organic contaminants and nanomaterials. Her work aims at developing fundamental knowledge of microbial biodegradation of organic contaminants and applying such knowledge to in situ bioremediation for these compounds. In situ environmental remediation technologies are desirable because they irreversibly detoxify contaminants on site without removing contaminated soil or groundwater. As a result, human exposure to the contaminants is minimized. 
  • Jeffrey McCutcheon: Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering Department, University of Connecticut, USA
    • Professor McCutcheon is a world expert in salinity-driven processes, and his research centers on water treatment and desalinization. He has designed new membranes that use electrospun nanofiber nonwovens. Professor McCutcheon has also developed other uses for nanofiber technology in the water tech area.
  • Huisheng Peng: Department of Macromolecular Science & Laboratory of Advanced Materials, Fudan University, China
    • Dr. Peng’s main research interest is on carbon nanotube/polymer composite materials with excellent mechanical, electronic, and electrocatalytic properties. He studies their application in high-performance structure material, solar cells, lithium ion batteries, and sensing devices.
  • Tobias Schrag: Institute of Plant Breeding, Seed Science and Population Genetics, University of Hohenheim, Germany
    • Dr. Schrag’s research interests cover prediction methodology in hybrid breeding programs, optimization of breeding schemes by stochastic and deterministic simulations, and the application of genomic tools in maize research and breeding. Dr. Schrag’s approach to integrate genomic, metabolic and transcriptional data into a single prediction system for hybrid performance holds great potential to enhance those prediction systems leading to an increase in yield stability, especially under stressful conditions.
  • Durai Sundar: Department of Biochemical Engineering and Biotechnology, Indian Institute of Technology, India
    • Dr. Sundar’s research has been focused on designing novel metabolic engineering tools and techniques. The goal is to encourage plant cells to produce a variety of phytochemicals which can be used in nutrition and medicine. This research has an advantage over current technologies which use physical and chemical extraction of plants and leaves as a source of nutraceuticals, etc.