Honorary doctoral degree for world-leading engineer

MIT Professor Robert Langer has received an honorary UNSW doctorate for his contributions to chemical engineering.

Professor Robert LangerWorld-renowned engineering expert Professor Robert Langer today received an honorary doctorate in engineering from UNSW in recognition of his significant contribution to the field of chemical engineering.

Professor Langer, the David H Koch Institute Professor at MIT, is the most cited engineer in history and is widely considered to be the most influential academic in his field. He leads the internationally acclaimed Langer Lab in MIT’s Department of Chemical Engineering, where he is focused on a program of research into drug delivery systems, tissue building and microchip implants. His work has led to treatments for brain cancer, prostate cancer, endometriosis, schizophrenia and diabetes, and he is acclaimed for research leading to the development of drug-coated cardiovascular stents that have benefited more than 10 million patients. He has also produced more than 1300 articles and 1080 patents, many of which have been licensed or sub-licensed to pharmaceutical, chemical, biotechnology and medical device companies around the world.

Professor Langer has collaborated with the School of Chemical Engineering at UNSW Australia since the 1990s, the result of a long-term research partnership with Professor Neil Foster that continues to this day.

The award was conferred as part of the 2ndAsia-Pacific Symposium on Process Intensification and Sustainability (APSPIS 2015), hosted by PrinSus (Process Intensification and Sustainability) Research Group within the School of Chemical Engineering this week.

“We developed an entirely new way of sterilising substances – there were only three [methods] before this, each with its drawbacks – using supercritical fluids. Neil was an expert in this area and I was knowledgeable about biomedical substances,” Professor Langer says. “I've been very happy with what Neil and I have done. It led to an important paper and patent and even a company that is based on it that has helped many patients.”

Today, Professor Langer and his team at the Langer Lab are continuing their research into tissue engineering, with a particular focus on cell-based treatments for a range of health care complaints, including spinal cord, cartilage and intestinal damage and hearing loss. Their work on drug delivery systems is equally groundbreaking; the team is currently working to develop long-acting pills that have the potential to deliver large molecules when taken orally.

“[We are interested in] creating nanoparticles that can target cancer, creating nanoparticles that can deliver agents that turn genes on or off or edit them, developing smart controlled release microchips that can provide pulsatile delivery, developing new ways to deliver drugs to the brain, and creating better ways to give vaccines and essential nutrients to people,” Professor Langer says.

Despite a long and celebrated career, in which he has received more than 220 major awards, been elected to all three American Science Academies, and become one of only four living people to receive both the United States Medical of Science (2006) and the United States Medal of Technology and Innovation (2011), Professor Langer is clear on what he perceives to be his greatest professional achievement: his students. With nearly 300 holding professorships at universities around the world, and many more going on to make significant contributions to the engineering field, Professor Langer remains steadfast in his belief that the world’s next generation of chemical engineers have the capacity to unlock even greater solutions to some of the most pressing problems of our time.

“I think there are numerous challenges including creating new technologies such as nanotechnology, new materials, new sources of energy, new biomedical advances and really anything where chemistry can be applied to real world problems,” he says.  “I hope and I think today's students have the creativity, diligence, and leadership to respond to these challenges and do so in a way that makes the world a better place.”