For her innovative research and significant contributions to the field, Michelle O’Malley, an associate professor in UC Santa Barbara’s Department of Chemical Engineering, received the prestigious 2019 Young Investigator Award from the American Chemical Society’s (ACS) Division of Biochemical Technology. The award is bestowed upon one outstanding scientist, 40 years of age or younger, each year. O’Malley is the first woman to receive the honor in the 14-year history of the award.
“I am extremely proud to be selected for the award. It means a lot to me because it is recognition from my community of fellow biochemical engineers,” said O’Malley.
O’Malley’s research group works to engineer microbes and consortia with novel functions by examining how they perform extraordinary tasks in the environment. Working with the Santa Barbara Zoo, her group isolates waste-degrading fungi and bacteria from the feces of large herbivores. By isolating the microbes, the group works to understand the enzymes made by the gut microbes in order to develop technologies for converting plant waste into fuels, chemicals, and even new pharmaceutical products.
A distinguished panel of academic and industrial members judged Young Investigator candidates on the originality and overall quality of their work, as well as their contribution to the advancement of biochemical technology. Measures used by the judges to evaluate the impact of a candidate’s work included publications, presentations, patents, leadership roles, and professional awards.
O’Malley is grateful to be the first of what she believes will be many women to be recognized in her field.
“My hope is that this is a sign of more recognition to come for the excellent young women in the biotech community, who have really done so much to advance the field and push for groundbreaking research into new areas,” she said.
In recent years, O’Malley has received numerous prestigious accolades including: the ACS Rising Star Award; the ACS Young Investigator Award in the Polymeric Materials: Science and Engineering Division; the Presidential Early Career Award; the National Science Foundation (NSF) CAREER Award; and the U.S. Department of Energy Early Career Award.
O’Malley and other ACS award winners will be honored during the Spring ACS Meeting next spring in Orlando, Florida. She will also present a lecture on her lab’s research.