College of Chemistry dean wins award for biological engineering

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The dean of UC Berkeley’s College of Chemistry was awarded the James E. Bailey Award, which recognizes contributions to the field of biological engineering.

Douglas Clark, also a professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering, won the annual award for his work in the field over the course of his career. The award is given by the American Institute of Chemical Engineers and sponsored by biopharmaceutical company Cytos Biotechnology.

“Just to have been nominated is an honor, and receiving it is an even greater honor,” Clark said. “It’s great to be recognized by your peers for the work you do. It’s especially gratifying.”

Clark’s work centers on cellular engineering, the manipulation of enzymes to synthesize a large variety of materials from pharmaceuticals to cosmetics.

More specifically, Clark has focused on creating more effective pharmaceuticals through enzyme manipulation. His recent work includes a process to break down cellulose into simpler molecules, which can then be converted to a variety of biofuels. These biofuels can range from more simple forms such as ethanol to advanced biofuels.

The award committee considered 10 nominees for the award, which includes a $3,000 prize and is given based on their influence on the field through research and leadership. Only members of the Society for Biological Engineering, a community within the institute, can nominate researchers.

“It’s the biggest award within that field,” said David Schaffer, a campus professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering and director of the Berkeley Stem Cell Center. “The person it’s named after is the grandfather of that field. By virtue of that, it’s a very prestigious award.”

The award commemorates the late biotechnology pioneer James Bailey, who was Clark’s doctoral adviser in the 1980s at the California Institute of Technology.

“I have the greatest admiration and respect for Jay. I certainly wouldn’t be where I am if it weren’t for him,” Clark said. “So to receive this award is very special personally and professionally. … It reconnects me with Jay.”

According to Clark, when he told his wife he had received the award, she replied, “Somewhere, Jay is smiling.”

Clark’s former colleague Harvey Blanch nominated him for the award last fall. Blanch, a former campus chemical and biomolecular engineering professor who received the award in 2010, was a friend of Bailey’s, Clark said.

“(Blanch) has won just about every award one can receive in the bioengineering field,” Clark said. “To have won the same award as Harvey, that’s one aspect of this that makes it so gratifying and so humbling.”

Clark will receive the award at the American Institute of Chemical Engineers’ annual meeting in November in Atlanta. There, he will give a lecture discussing how the molecular biology innovations in Bailey’s lab laid the groundwork for his own research.

Contact Sonja Hutson at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @SonjaHutson.