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Elmer Gaden Garners Top Engineering Prize

by Linda Wang
March 23, 2009 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 87, Issue 12

ELMER L. GADEN JR., a professor emeritus of chemical engineering at the University of Virginia, was awarded the 2009 Fritz J. & Dolores H. Russ Prize during a gala celebration in Washington, D.C., on Feb. 17.

The Russ award recognizes a significant achievement in bioengineering. The prize is funded by Ohio University and administered by the National Academy of Engineering. It includes a $500,000 cash award and a gold medallion.

Gaden’s research enabled the large-scale manufacture of antibiotics, such as penicillin. C&EN featured Gaden on the cover of its May 31, 1971, issue and called him the “Father of biochemical engineering,” a reference that is still being used today.

“Elmer Gaden helped lay the foundation for modern biotechnology, from the production of antibiotics to the manufacture of therapeutic proteins,” says Douglas S. Clark, a former student of Gaden’s and now a professor of chemical engineering at the University of California, Berkeley. “Many of the wonder drugs we now take for granted would not be readily available if not for the work of Elmer Gaden.”

Gaden has taught at Columbia University, the University of Vermont, and the University of Virginia. In addition, he founded the journal Biotechnology & Bioengineering, for which he served as editor for 25 years.

But Gaden also has a life outside of his research. “Something many people don’t know about Elmer is that he is a noted historian, which is how I first met him as a student in a military history class he cotaught at the University of Vermont,” says Clark, who is the current editor-in-chief of Biotechnology & Bioengineering. “His personal charm and love of history were infectious, and not once did he even hint that he was a historical figure himself.”

Linda Wang compiles this section. Announcements of awards may be sent to


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