Editorial: Networking Face-to-Face at AIChE’s Annual Meeting | AIChE

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Editorial: Networking Face-to-Face at AIChE’s Annual Meeting



After months of sitting behind a computer screen and social distancing from coworkers, friends, and colleagues, I had the opportunity to attend AIChE’s Annual Meeting in Boston, MA. The meeting, held last month, was one of AIChE’s first major in-person events since the start of the pandemic and it brought together thousands of engineers from all over the world. Attendees were excited to be networking, exchanging ideas, and sharing their research and work with the chemical engineering community — all while safely wearing masks.

At every Annual Meeting, I try to attend as many events as possible and listen to a wide variety of lectures to gain inspiration for future CEP content. What struck me the most about Annual this year was how much the researchers and engineers in attendance have accomplished over the past two years. You might expect a pandemic to slow the pace of work, but for many engineers, it gave them the impetus to devote time to their projects and ideas.

One particularly inspiring event was the Langer Prize fellowship lecture. The 2021 Langer Prize for Innovation and Entrepreneurial Excellence was awarded to Aditya M. Kunjapur, Assistant Professor of Chemical and Biological Engineering at the Univ. of Delaware. The fellowship, which is endowed by the AIChE Foundation, awarded a grant of $75,000 to Kunjapur to accelerate the pace of his research.

Bob Langer himself gave the opening remarks of the lecture, describing the many risks he took as a young engineer to pursue a less-conventional career path in entrepreneurship and biological research. Kunjapur’s lecture echoed some of these key themes, as he described some of the risks he has taken to move his research in synthetic biology toward commercialization. One of Kunjapur’s game-changing ideas is the use of bacteria to produce amino acids to elicit stronger immune responses in patients, which could be harnessed in vaccines to combat antibiotic-resistance and a variety of diseases. My takeaway from the lecture was the incredible courage it takes to be an innovator and entrepreneur. It was inspiring to hear from engineers who take risks with the hopes of having a transformative impact on society.

You won’t find many meetings where you can attend a lecture on biological research as well as a competition for the best beer. Of course, the AIChE Annual Meeting offers both and more. At the 2021 AIChE Beer Brewing Competition, 29 different beers were submitted to the competition — a remarkable number considering the travel limitations imposed by the pandemic. One of the best aspects of the event is the opportunity to sample many of the brews. This year, teams submitted an impressive range of beer varieties — from American pale ales and a rye double IPA to a mango sweet beer and a variety of stouts. Only one beer could win Best in Show, and this year’s winner was a Festbier from team Barley Bioprocessing.

While online lectures can communicate complex information and reach a broad audience, in-person gatherings are best suited to showcasing the energy and vigor of the chemical engineering community. I am thankful to once again network in-person with peers at the Annual Meeting. As the year draws to a close, I hope that you will also have the opportunity to safely gather with colleagues, friends, and family. Best wishes for a happy and healthy holiday season.

Emily Petruzzelli, Editor-in-Chief


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