2013 Eni Award

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Professor James C. Liao has been named co-winner of the 2013 Eni Award in Renewable and Non-Conventional Energy.

James C. Liao, a Professor of Chemistry & Biochemistry and Ralph M. Parsons Foundation Professor and Chair of Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering at UCLA was recognized for his research on the “Synthesis of Isobutanol and Other Higher Alcohols as Biofuels.”  Liao was selected as a co-winner with Frances H. Arnold, a Professor of Chemical Engineering and  Bioengineering and Biochemistry at California Institute of Technology.  Arnold was recognized for her work on “Directed Evolution of Enzymes and Pathways for Renewable Fuels and Chemicals.”  The award will come with a specially struck gold medal of the Italian State Mint and a sum of 200,000 Euros (about $263,900).

Liao James Eniaward 2013
Prof. James Liao and Eni Award 2013 (courtesy of eni.com)

One of the worldwide most appreciated experts in metabolic engineering and synthetic biology, Professor Liao obtained his Bachelor of Science from the National Taiwan University.  It was followed in 1987 by a Ph.D. degree at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and by a period spent as a research scientist at Rochester, working for the Eastman Kodak Company.  In 1990 he joined Texas A&M University and in 1997, he moved to University of California, Los Angeles.

His current research interests are mainly focused on biological synthesis of fuels and chemicals, carbon and nitrogen assimilation, metabolic engineering and synthetic biology, transcriptional and metabolic networks analysis and fatty acid metabolism.  Together with his research group, Professor Liao developed synthetic pathways for production of isobutanol and other higher alcohols from various raw materials.  He deepened biological regulatory networks at the systems level, developing both experimental and computational methods for better understanding and predicting cellular behaviour.  They developed a breakthrough technique, called Network Component Analysis (NCA), using mRNA expression and transcriptional network connectivity to determine network component dynamics, functions, and interactions.  The team designed novel synthetic gene-metabolic circuits, in order to demonstrate system-wide understanding of cellular regulation.

During his outstanding scientific career, he has been awarded with many recognitions.  Among them, the NSF Young Investigator Award in 1992, the Merck Award for Metabolic Engineering in 2006 and the Food, Pharmaceutical and Bioengineering Division award of American Institute of Chemical Engineers in the same year.  He then won the Charles Thom Award of the Society for Industrial Microbiology in 2007 and the Marvin Johnson Award of American Chemical Society in 2009.  In 2010, he received the Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge Award.  In 2012, Professor James Liao was proclaimed the White House Champion of Change in Renewable Energy and in 2013, he was elected to the National Academy of Engineering.

2013 Eni Award Banner (Courtesy of eni.com)

The Eni Award was established in 2008 to develop better use of renewable energy, promote environmental research and encourage new generations of researchers.  The award is given by the Fondazione Eni Enrico Mattei, a nonprofit research institution founded by Eni S.p.A., an Italian multinational energy company.  

Liao, Arnold and the other 2013 awardees will be presented with their prizes at the Presidential Palace in Rome on June 27.  

For a full list of the 2013 Eni Awardees and more background about the award, please visit the Eni Award home page.

For more information about Frances H. Arnold, who will present the inaugural Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry’s Distinguished Lecture Series in Fall 2013, please visit here.