Renowned scientist and Moderna co-founder Robert Langer to speak at Union

Publication Date

Renowned chemical engineer Robert Langer, a pioneer in the development of the mRNA vaccines used to help combat COVID-19, will speak Wednesday, June 1, at 7:30 p.m. in the Nott Memorial.

His talk, “From Nanotechnology to mRNA Vaccines: How Overcoming Skepticism and Barriers Led to New Cancer Treatments and Ways to Tackle a Global Health Challenge,” is free and open to the public.

Robert Langer

Robert Langer

Those unable to attend in person are invited to watch the talk via Zoom.

The David H. Koch Institute Professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and director of the Langer Lab, Langer works at the intersection of biotechnology and materials science.

He is considered the founder of the field of tissue engineering in regenerative medicine and is the pioneer of hundreds of technologies, including controlled release and transdermal drug delivery systems, which allow the non-invasive administration of drugs through the skin.

In 2010, he co-founded Cambridge, Mass.-based biotech firm Moderna, and played a key role in the development of its COVID-19 vaccine, which built off his previous research on drug delivery.

“I think it’s important to stress how much engineers can and have changed the world for the better,” Langer said in a recent interview. “It’s a thrill for me to see engineering and biology improving people’s lives; that’s been my dream from the beginning.”

One of the world’s most cited scientists, Langer is the author of more than 1,500 articles and the inventor on more than a thousand patents. His patents have been licensed or sublicensed to over 400 pharmaceutical, chemical, biotechnology and medical device companies.

A 2017 profile of Langer by the Harvard Business Review was headlined “The Edison of Medicine.”

The recipient of more than 220 major awards, Langer is one of three living individuals to have received both the National Medal of Science (2006) and the National Medal of Technology and Innovation (2011), both bestowed by the president of the United States.

He is also the recipient of the Charles Stark Draper Prize (considered the Nobel Prize for engineers), the Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering, the Millennium Prize (the world’s largest technology prize) the Priestley Medal (the highest award of the American Chemical Society), the Dreyfus Prize in Chemical Sciences and the Albany Medical Center Prize.

From 1995 to 2002, he served as a member of the Food and Drug Administration’s SCIENCE Board, the FDA’s highest advisory board. He was its chairperson from 1999-2002.

Langer received his bachelor’s degree from Cornell University and his doctoral degree from MIT, both in chemical engineering. He is the recipient of 36 honorary degrees and been elected to the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, National Academy of Medicine and the National Academy of Inventors.

He grew up in Albany, N.Y. His father, Robert ’36, was an English major at Union, serving as editor of the literary magazine, The Idol. He was also captain of the golf team.

“We are delighted and honored to have Dr. Langer visit Union to interact with students, faculty and the public,” said Mary Carroll ‘86, the Dwane W. Crichton Professor of Chemistry. “Dr. Langer is truly a superstar in STEM. He has made vast and important contributions as a chemical engineer, scientist, inventor and entrepreneur. We are so fortunate to welcome him to our campus.”

Carroll and Joanne Kehlbeck, professor and chair of chemistry, were able to bring Langer to Union through a 2021 Jean Dreyfus Lectureship for Undergraduate Institutions awarded to the Chemistry Department.

The award provides an $18,500 grant to bring a leading researcher in the chemical sciences to campus and to support the summer research of two undergraduates.

As the Jean Dreyfus Lecturer, Langer will give two public presentations: one geared toward a technical audience and the other accessible to and promoted to the wider community.

The evening lecture in the Nott Memorial is co-sponsored by the Union College chapter of Sigma Xi and the Eastern New York section of the American Chemical Society.

Earlier in the day, at 12:55 p.m. in Olin Auditorium, Langer will give a talk to faculty and students, “Chemistry in Support of Human Health: Drug Delivery and Tissue Engineering.” It is co-sponsored by the departments of Biological Sciences; Electrical, Computer and Biomedical Engineering; Geosciences; Mechanical Engineering; and Physics and Astronomy.