Elmer Gaden Receives Russ Prize

Former SEAS professor and alumnus Elmer L. Gaden '44,'47,'49 has been named the 2009 winner of the Russ Prize for his development of technology that made possible the mass production of antibiotics. The Fritz J. and Dolores H. Russ Prize, established in 1999 and considered by many as the equivalent of a Nobel Prize for engineering, is awarded once every two years to a researcher "whose achievements are of critical importance, advance science and engineering, and ultimately improve the human condition."

Gaden will receive a $500,000 cash award and a gold medallion, which will be presented during a gala dinner Feb. 17 in Washington, D.C. The Russ Prize is administered by the National Academy of Engineering and was established with a multi-million dollar endowment to Ohio University from the Russes.

Widely known as the "father of biochemical engineering," Gaden began his research in biochemical engineering as a student at Columbia SEAS, where he received three degrees in chemical engineering--a BS in 1944, an MS in 1947, and a PhD in 1949. His ground-breaking PhD dissertation focused on providing the optimal amount of oxygen to provide greater fermentation energy to enable penicillin mold to grow and multiply more rapidly. This research formed the basis for mass production of a wide range of antibiotics, beginning with penicillin.

"We are thrilled to see that our colleague, friend, and alumnus Elmer Gaden has received the Russ Prize," said Alan C. West, Samuel Ruben-Peter G. Viele Professor of Electrochemistry and chair of the Department of Chemical Engineering. "Elmer's work is of incredible importance to the pharmaceutical industry and has saved countless lives. We are now seeking to establish the Elmer L. Gaden lectureship as an annual Departmental event, to commemorate not only his research accomplishments but also the major impact he had on so many lives while he was at Columbia."

In announcing the prize, the NAE website noted, "[Gaden's] breakthroughs in developing technologies that provide the proper amount of oxygen needed for the growth of antibiotics--known as aerobic fermentation--allowed the drugs to be inexpensively manufactured and widely available. His achievements fostered a multibillion dollar antibiotics industry and a field that has contributed immeasurably to the improvement of the human condition."

Except for a brief period of service during World War II and as a researcher for a pharmaceutical company, Gaden has been in academia. As a professor and researcher, he has focused on the engineering aspects of microbial processes for manufacturing chemical and pharmaceutical products: biochemical engineering. He was a professor at Columbia SEAS for 26 years, during which time he was a teacher, researcher, and department chair, and founder of the program in biochemical engineering.

In 1974, he was named dean of the College of Engineering, Mathematics, and Business Administration at the University of Vermont. In 1979, he joined the engineering faculty at the University of Virginia as the Wills Johnson Professor of Chemical Engineering, where he remained until his retirement in 1994. He currently is Wills Johnson Professor Emeritus.

Gaden's interest in harnessing biological processes to produce chemicals led him to publish widely and to found the international research journal Biotechnology and Bioengineering, which he edited for 25 years. A member of the National Academy of Engineering and a fellow of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers, he received AIChE's first Food, Pharmaceutical, and Bioengineering Award, as well as the Chemical Engineering Lectureship Award from the American Society of Engineering Education. The American Chemical Society held a symposium in his honor at their meeting in spring 1994, where he also received the Marvin Johnson Award in recognition of his outstanding research contributions to biochemical technology.

In 1986, Gaden received the Egleston Medal for distinguished engineering achievement from Columbia; in 1987, he received an honorary doctorate from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and, in 1988, he received the Founders Award from the American Institute of Chemical Engineers. He also was honored for his teaching, receiving Columbia's "Great Teacher Award" and the "Mac Wade Award" from the students of Virginia's School of Engineering and Applied Science for service to the School and its students.

Courtesy The Fu Foundation School of Engineering & Applied Science News Website

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