MIT’s Karen Gleason to Receive AIChE’s Margaret H. Rousseau Pioneer Award

ChEnected is introducing readers to the recipients of AIChE’s 2021 Institute and Board of Directors’ Awards. These are AIChE’s highest honors, and all candidates are nominated by the chemical engineering community and voted upon by the members of AIChE’s volunteer-led Awards Committee. The awards acknowledge outstanding achievements across a spectrum of chemical engineering endeavors.

The Margaret Hutchinson Rousseau Pioneer Award for Lifetime Achievement by a Woman Chemical Engineer is given to a member of AIChE who has made significant contributions to chemical engineering, and who has paved the way for women to have a greater impact on the profession.

The award is sponsored by Pfizer and is named for Margaret Hutchinson Rousseau, the first woman member of AIChE and a pioneer at Pfizer, where she designed the first deep-tank penicillin fermentation commercial plant during World War II. 

Dr. Gleason’s recognition

This year’s honoree is Karen K. Gleason, the Alexander and I. Michael Kasser Professor of Chemical Engineering, Emerita, at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). 

Dr. Gleason is being honored “for her pioneering research and commercialization of chemical vapor deposition (CVD) for advanced surface functionalization with polymers, and for university leadership including advancement opportunities for women.”

Gleason and the other honorees will receive their prizes at the 2021 AIChE Annual Meeting, November 7–11 in Boston, Massachusetts. A video presentation of the awards will be available for viewing the following week at a virtual version of the Annual Meeting.      

More about this year’s award winner

Karen Gleason’s seminal research on polymers derived from vacuum chemical vapor deposition (CVD) processes has been documented in more than 50 journal articles, three books, and more than 40 U.S. patents. By avoiding non-selective chemical reactions, Gleason and her team have invented mechanistic-based CVD processes that have achieved rapid growth rates on surfaces held near room temperature. These CVD methods have resulted in numerous commercial applications, and Gleason has co-founded two technology companies that manufacture CVD polymer surface modification layers for industrial parts.  

Gleason joined the MIT faculty in 1987 and became the first woman to receive tenure in the Department of Chemical Engineering. More than 20 of Professor Gleason’s research advisees hold tenured or tenure-track faculty positions. Ten of these happen to be women. She has also spearheaded the hiring of women faculty at MIT by creating the Rising Stars Program in Chemical Engineering, which identifies outstanding early-career women and encourages them to apply for faculty positions.

Gleason’s leadership roles at MIT have included Associate Provost, Associate Dean of Engineering, Associate Director for the Institute of Soldier Nanotechnologies, and Executive Officer of the Chemical Engineering Department. Currently, she is a deputy editor for the journal Science Advances, published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). 

She is a member of the U.S. National Academy of Engineering and a Fellow of AIChE. Previous honors from AIChE include the 2019 Prausnitz Institute Lecture and the 2015 Charles M. A. Stine (now Braskem) Award from the Materials Engineering and Sciences Division. Gleason earned her PhD in chemical engineering from the University of California at Berkeley, and her BS and MS degrees at MIT, where she also won All-American honors in swimming.

Stay in the know

You can read about all the recipients of the 2021 Institute and Board of Directors’ Awards in this series. For a listing of all awards presented by AIChE, visit