MIT’s Bob Langer Strikes Again, Wins Priestley Medal

6/13/11Follow @xconomy

You know you’ve accomplished something in life when somebody gives you an award named after the guy who discovered oxygen. That was the position MIT bioengineering professor Bob Langer found himself in last week, when he took home another biggie—the Priestley Medal.

This prize, the highest honor given by the American Chemical Society, usually doesn’t go to someone who works on chemical engineering and biomedical research projects like Langer. Chemical & Engineering News, the journal of the ACS, explained why Langer got the prize in a post last Friday.

“He runs one of the largest academic laboratories in the world, with nearly 100 members,” C&EN wrote. “He has been an author of more than 1,100 research papers. He has approximately 800 issued and pending patents worldwide that have been licensed or sublicensed to more than 220 companies. And he has had a hand in creating some 25 companies.”

Of course, the prolific chemical engineer has won a bunch of trophies for his pioneering work in tissue engineering and drug delivery. Some of the biggest have included the $1.2 million Millennium Technology Prize, the U.S. National Medal of Science, and the Charles Stark Draper Prize, considered the equivalent of the Nobel Prize for engineers. But Langer told C&EN he was honored and “shocked” to get the Priestley Medal.

“It is America’s top chemistry prize,” Langer says in an e-mail. “It’s almost always given to one of the world’s top chemists—often Nobel Laureates like last year. This is the 1st time in 65 years they gave it to a chemical engineer.”

Much of Langer’s work is being applied today in a network of startups that could almost be considered a sub-economy of Massachusetts. You can see the family tree of 17 companies that Langer has had a part in founding with one venture firm—Polaris Venture Partners. We’ll be watching to see how many of Langer’s projects end up making an impact for patients—and how many more prizes Langer will win along the way.

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