Shang-Tian Yang, PhD, professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering (CBE) in the College of Engineering, has earned The Ohio State University 2024 Distinguished Scholar Award. Senior leadership in the Enterprise for Research, Innovation and Knowledge recently surprised Yang with the honor at a department meeting.

“Thank you, I am very humbled to receive this award,” said Yang upon learning of the honor. “I appreciate the department offering me the opportunity for the last 40 years. We have so many eminent scholars here who have all won prestigious awards and so I’m just chasing after them.” 

Yang is focused on interdisciplinary research involving synthetic biology, molecular biology, biochemistry, microbiology, food science and bioprocess engineering with industrial and biomedical applications. 

“Dr. Yang’s discoveries have benefitted the biomanufacturing industry by significantly improving the way bioprocess engineering is undertaken around the world,” said Cynthia Carnes, senior vice president for research operations. “his work truly impacts lives with broad applications, including in agricultural, chemical, food, medical and material industries.” 

“Your research for the past 40 years has been integral in bridging industry and academia when it comes to bioprocessing research – you really put Ohio State chemical and biomolecular engineering on the map,” said College of Engineering dean Ayanna Howard during the presentation. 

“ST built the biochemical engineering program and put Ohio State on the map,” said Umit S. Ozkan, chair of the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering. “This is especially meaningful for me because ST and I started here at about the same time. We grew up together and made this our home. It’s wonderful that one of our own is honored with such a distinguished recognition.” 

Yang, a fellow of the American Institute of Medical and Biological Engineering, has been involved in bioprocessing research for more than 40 years. He holds 12 patents, some of which have been licensed for commercial development. He has supervised many research projects on novel bioprocesses for value-added products from food and agricultural wastes, including metabolic engineering of clostridia and black yeast for biofuels and bio-based chemicals production, extractive fermentation for production of carboxylic acids, and novel bioreactor design and process scale up. His group pioneered in engineering clostridia for high-titer and high-yield butyric acid and n-butanol production from renewable biomass and CO2. His research group also developed the first 3D cell culture system that can mimic in vivo tissue environment and be used reliably in high-throughput screening of chemicals for their embryotoxic potentials and/or as cancer drug targets. His current research involves biocatalysis, fermentation for value-added products from biomass and industrial wastes, metabolic engineering, stem cell and tissue engineering, and biochips for high-throughput cell-based assays and biodiagnostics. Yang earned his doctorate in Biochemical Engineering and his master’s in Food and Biochemical Engineering from Purdue University. He earned his bachelor’s degree in Agricultural Chemistry from National Taiwan University.

The Distinguished Scholar Award is among the highest annual honors awarded at Ohio State. The university-level award annually honors six faculty members who demonstrate scholarly activity, conduct research or creative works that represent exceptional achievements in their fields and garner distinction for the university. Award recipients are nominated by their departments and chosen by a committee of senior faculty, including past award recipients. Distinguished Scholars receive an honorarium and a research grant to be used over the next three years. 

Quotes from Yang’s nomination:   

“Few biochemical engineers in academia are as well versed as Dr. Yang in industrial biotechnology. He has a keen insight on industrial problems and transforms them into interesting academic studies. Dr. Yang’s research in bioprocess engineering is broad in scope and original and has not only made major impacts on biorefining and biomanufacturing for industrial applications but also provided fundamental understanding of clostridia physiology and stem cell biology.” Eleftherios (Terry) Papoutsakis, University of Delaware.   

“If there is a single distinguishing factor that sets Professor Yang apart from his peers, it is his vision for bioreactors and his fundamental approach in developing immobilization matrices for different types of cells. His work has made major contributions to the field while strengthening recognition of his program as well as the value of immobilized cell bioreactors in areas ranging from value-added products to biomedical applications.” Michael R. Ladisch, Purdue University.   

“Throughout his career, Dr. Yang has pioneered new approaches in biomanufacturing that heavily capitalizes on novel biotechnology and bioprocess engineering technologies for bio-based products including chemicals, fuels, and stem cells…In the last ~20 years, ST’s group has developed novel clostridia for biobutanol production at extremely high titer, rate and yield that were not seen before and would facilitate the commercialization of biobutanol as advanced drop-in fuel replacing bioethanol and gasoline.” An-Ping Zeng, Westlake University.