Robert S. Langer, Massachusetts Institute of Technology: The Future of Chemical Engineering

Bob Langer is the David H. Koch Institute Professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He holds more than 1,300 issued or pending patents, is founder or co-founder of more than 26 companies, and is a member of all three U.S. National Academies — of Science, Engineering, and Medicine.

During AIChE’s centennial year of 2008, AIChE interviewed Dr. Langer to learn his perspectives on the chemical engineering profession’s future. In today’s blog post, Langer revisits his comments from 2008, and adds his perspectives for beyond 2018.

Looking ahead 25 years, how do you expect your industry/research area to evolve?

In 2008, Langer wrote:

I expect the area I’m in — biotechnology, pharmaceuticals, medical devices, biomaterials — to expand considerably. There will be new types of information in genetics leading to more personalized diagnostics and medicines. There will be new materials leading to new medical devices. Delivery of complex molecules, including potential new drugs such as siRNA and DNA, will also create opportunities.

In 2018, Langer says:

This has turned out to be true. I’d add gene-editing drugs to the last sentence.

Core areas of ChE expertise are being augmented by new expertise in science and engineering at molecular and nanometer scales, in biosystems, in sustainability, and in cyber-tools. Over the next 25 years, how will these changes affect your industry/research area?

In 2008, Langer wrote:

Nanotechnology will affect drug delivery and delivery of new genetic drugs. Transport at the nanoscale level may also open up new possibilities in non-invasive delivery, cell-specific drug delivery, and sensing.

In 2018, Langer says:

I’d add that immunology will also create new chemical engineering opportunities.

What new industries/research areas do you foresee?

In 2008, Langer wrote:

I see more sectors appearing at interfaces, for example, the influence of biology and materials, biology and informatics, and nanoscience and medicine.

In 2018, Langer says:

No change.

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