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Career Ladder

Career Ladder: Erik Luber

This boundary-crossing scientist has expertise in physics, chemistry, and biology.

by Alex Scott
January 14, 2022 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 100, Issue 2


Photo of Erik Luber as a child playing with a puzzle.
Credit: Jurgen Luber
Luber took to math and puzzle solving at an early age.


Doing the math

From the outset, Erik Luber was interested in solving puzzles—especially ones he could take apart and try to put back together. His first word, according to his mother, was “puzzle.” “It would be a lie to say my mom’s not prone to exaggeration and storytelling, but that is the way she tells it,” Luber says. By the time Luber was 6 years old, he had discovered his lifelong interest in math. “I would sit down and start writing numbers. I was fascinated. Yeah, that’s what I did for fun growing up,” Luber says. That love of using math to solve complex problems would become a key thread running through his career.


And on to physics

After drawing on inspiration from a number of science teachers, Luber opted to major in engineering physics as an undergraduate at the University of Alberta. “I was really drawn to physics. I just really love doing the math, and math is the language of physics and science in general,” Luber says. He chose engineering physics because he thought it might have better employment prospects than a more theoretical major.

Photo of Luber with microphone.
Credit: Marc-Julian Objois
Luber worked on a range of sustainable technologies while a staff scientist at the University of Alberta.


Then chemistry

Luber went on to get a master’s degree in materials engineering, also at the University of Alberta, developing metallic-glass thin films and fabricating them into atomic force microscope tips. At the university’s suggestion, Luber undertook more in-depth research and converted his master’s thesis into a thesis for a PhD. After he finished his PhD, Luber started a postdoctoral fellowship working with Alberta chemistry professor Jillian Buriak. He went on to become a staff scientist in Buriak’s lab working mostly on materials for sustainable energy, including water splitting, solar cells, electrodes, and thin-film materials. Luber took the position rather than another he had been offered by oil company Shell. “I wanted to do something more involved in sustainable development,” Luber says.


And now biology

Photo of Erik Luber in lab.
Credit: Ryan Brodziak
Luber started his role as engineering team lead at Future Fields in early 2021.

After about 10 years working in Buriak’s lab, Luber learned that Alberta-based biotech start-up Future Fields could use his skills. Future Fields, which C&EN had on its radar in last year’s 10 Start-Ups to Watch issue, is developing a low-carbon process for manufacturing growth factors for lab-grown meat from genetically engineered Drosophila melanogaster, a species of fruit fly. Luber is focused on the development of technologies and systems for industrial-scale growth factor production. “I brought a skill set that a lot of people wouldn’t already have had at Future Fields,” says Luber, whose colleagues are primarily biologists. “I provide a different perspective.” As part of his approach to increase production at Future Fields, Luber says, he has had to connect the chemistry and chemical physics of hydrogels with fruit fly food science. “It’s about solving super-fascinating problems,” he says.

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