Army-funded researcher wins Nobel prize

February 26, 2019

By ARL Public Affairs

ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. (Feb. 20, 2019) -- An Army-funded researcher won the 2018 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for research in new enzyme production leading to the commercial, cost-effective synthesis of biofuels.

Professor Frances Arnold is the Linus Pauling professor of chemical engineering, bioengineering and biochemistry at the California Institute of Technology. She is the fifth woman to win the Nobel prize in its 117-year history.

Arnold said she's been interested in how biology can be used in engineering to make everything from diagnostics to medicines to fuels to molecules.

"Biology is a great chemist -- and she's also a great engineer," Arnold said. "So I've been developing methods where by using biology we can solve problems in the real world. We've worked on a number of things that I think could have big impact on the Soldier."

Arnold said many years ago she looked at how one can make liquid fuels in remote locations from resources collected from the environment. She said they extended that into developing genetically modified organisms that now make jet fuel.

"I know we've flown Black Hawk helicopters on jet fuel made from renewable resources," Arnold said.

The Army provided a single investigator grant in the 1990s. Through this, Arnold demonstrated the ability to modify an enzyme that provided robust native activity but at higher temperatures.

The U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command's Army Research Laboratory -- through the Army Research Office -- started funding the research in 2003 through the Institute for Collaborative Biotechnologies in Santa Barbara, California.

"Specifically with ARL we've been exploring how the chemistry of the biological world can make energetic molecules, how we can make fuels in chemicals in remote locations and mostly exploring the methods that we can use to build better biology," Arnold said.

Arnold furthered her research with the help of her students. She said these students are eager to work on impossible things -- and they sometimes make them happen.

"We have this collection of brilliant young scientists who are looking for something useful they can do with their ideas and their technologies," Arnold said.

The Army continues to invest in ground-breaking research, so it can adapt, innovate and integrate technology at speed and scale to maintain what officials call "assured battlefield dominance into the future."

Arnold said she is excited about applying biology to solving problems that will be important to the Army.

"Biology makes things and the Army needs things -- materials, chemicals, fuels -- biology can do this, but we have to learn the basic principles of engineering biology," she said.

With ARL support, Arnold is working on incorporating machine learning and blending new ideas together to reliably build biological things that she said will be useful.


The CCDC Army Research Laboratory (ARL) is an element of the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command. As the Army's corporate research laboratory, ARL discovers, innovates and transitions science and technology to ensure dominant strategic land power. Through collaboration across the command's core technical competencies, CCDC leads in the discovery, development and delivery of the technology-based capabilities required to make Soldiers more lethal to win our Nation's wars and come home safely. CCDC is a major subordinate command of the U.S. Army Futures Command.

 

Last Update / Reviewed: February 26, 2019