Hal Alper of UT Austin Is AIChE’s 2023 Acrivos Professional Progress Award Recipient

ChEnected is introducing readers to the recipients of AIChE’s 2023 Institute and Board of Directors’ Awards. These high honorees are nominated by the chemical engineering community and voted upon by the members of AIChE’s Awards Committee. 

The Andreas Acrivos Award for Professional Progress in Chemical Engineering is endowed by the AIChE Foundation in the name of fluid-dynamics pioneer Andreas Acrivos of the City College of New York. The prize recognizes outstanding progress in chemical engineering by a member of AIChE in their early career.

The recipient of the 2023 Acrivos Award for Professional Progress is Dr. Hal Alper, the Kenneth A. Kobe Professor in Chemical Engineering and Executive Director of the Center for Biomedical Research Support at The University of Texas at Austin. 

Alper is being recognized “for pioneering contributions in the fields of synthetic biology and metabolic engineering, and for profoundly impacting the field of industrial biotechnology.” He and the other Institute and Board of Directors’ Award recipients will be honored at the 2023 AIChE Annual Meeting, November 5–10 in Orlando, Florida.

The most exciting part of my job is being able to interact with and mentor students. Together, we get to discover new frontiers and invent the future.

About Hal Alper and his work

Hal Alper’s research in synthetic biology, metabolic engineering, and protein engineering is expanding the boundaries of what is possible in a cell. Among his accomplishments, he has rewired microorganisms to enable new antibiotic and materials applications. He has rewired yeast to produce so much lipid that it actually floats. He has developed methods for the high-throughput detection of metabolites within oil-water emulsion droplets, thus removing the need for microtiter plate screening. He has also engineered an enzyme for the rapid depolymerization of waste polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic — among many other activities. 

Hi research is documented in more than 150 articles and eight book chapters, and he recently received the AIChE Allan P. Colburn Award for Excellence in Publications by an early-career member of AIChE. He has delivered more than 180 invited lectures at institutions worldwide. 

To date, Alper has mentored more than 100 undergraduates, nearly 40 graduate students, and six post-doctoral research associates — with the mentorship of his students and research team  representing an important part of his vocation. 

“The most exciting part of my job is being able to interact with and mentor students, whether in the classroom or in the lab,” says Alper, who notes that his receiving the Acrivos Professional Progress Award is also a recognition of the students and research teams that he has worked with at UT Austin. “Together, each day, we get to discover new frontiers and invent the future,” says Alper. He adds, “I am also grateful to the many collaborators who have been instrumental in helping to advance science together. Finally, it is important to recognize the ongoing support from our funding sources that help our research program to thrive.”

Within AIChE, Alper has been a leader of the Food, Pharmaceutical, and Bioengineering Division, and has organized conferences for AIChE’s Society for Biological Engineering and International Metabolic Engineering Society, among other activities. He is a Fellow of the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering and was elected to the National Academy of Inventors. He is a chemical engineering alumnus of the University of Maryland, College Park, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he earned his BS and PhD, respectively. He was a postdoctoral research associate at the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research and at Shire Human Genetic Therapies.  

This fall, ChEnected is presenting profiles of all the 2023 Institute and Board of Directors’ Award recipients. Visit ChEnected regularly to meet the honorees.