2019 O’Donnell Award in Engineering: Hal S. Alper, Ph.D.

Nov 2018

Jordan Orange

UT Austin Researcher Hal Alper Recognized for Pioneering Work in Engineering Sustainable Materials and Chemicals

Hal S. Alper, Ph.D., of The University of Texas at Austin is the recipient of the 2019 Edith and Peter O’Donnell Award in Engineering from TAMEST (The Academy of Medicine, Engineering and Science of Texas).

Dr. Alper’s research looks for sustainable ways to create new molecules that can be used for plastics, drugs and other products that typically require petroleum products as a feedstock. His work has the potential to significantly reduce pollution in the chemical industry by reducing and reusing waste. His innovative, paradigm-changing approach could lead to new drugs and sustainable plastics at an industrial scale.

“What he is developing and doing right now with his metabolic techniques isn’t just for drugs or bioplastics, there may be new chemicals that can be designed that way,” says Nicholas A. Peppas, Sc.D., Cockrell Family Regents Chair in Engineering #6, Family Chair for Department Leadership #1, and Professor of Chemical Engineering at The University of Texas at Austin. “He is the right person at the right time.”

Dr. Alper is the Associate Chair and Paul D. & Betty Robertson Meek Centennial Professor in Chemical Engineering at The University of Texas at Austin. 

“The TAMEST Edith and Peter O’Donnell Awards highlight the groundbreaking research taking place in Texas,” says TAMEST President Gordon England. “The discoveries by these researchers are advancing science and improving lives. TAMEST is proud to celebrate Dr. Alper for his achievements.”

Interview opportunities with Dr. Alper are available. Please contact:  

Patrick Wiseman

Executive Director, Communications and Marketing

Cockrell School of Engineering, The University of Texas at Austin



Research Highlights

Dr. Alper’s research focuses on metabolic and cellular engineering in the context of biofuel, biochemical, and biopharmaceutical production in an array of model host organisms. His impact in the field is highlighted by three major areas of accomplishment. First, he has pioneered the field of ‘promoter engineering’ and he has expanded greatly upon this paradigm in work that moves toward the rational design of synthetic parts (esp. with respect to fungal transcriptional control). The impact can be seen through significant laboratory and industrial interest in acquiring these parts. Second, he has been uniquely combining directed evolution with pathway engineering including creating a paradigm for ‘molecular transporter protein engineering’. In particular, his work has established that cellular transporter preferences can be rewired for biotechnological goals. Third, he has led efforts for groundbreaking contributions in the engineering of fungal hosts for the production of fuels and chemicals. His work demonstrates how large-scale engineering effort can be coupled with promoter and genetic tools to create unsurpassed chemical production levels from cells.

2019 TAMEST Edith and Peter O’Donnell Awards Recipients:

  • Medicine: Ralph DeBerardinis, M.D., Ph.D., Children’s Medical Center Research Institute at UT Southwestern
  • Engineering: Hal S. Alper, Ph.D., The University of Texas at Austin
  • Science: Julie Pfeiffer, Ph.D., UT Southwestern Medical Center
  • Technology Innovation: Terrence F. Alger II, Ph.D., Southwest Research Institute

About the O’Donnell Awards:

Over $1 million has been awarded to more than 50 recipients in the categories of medicine, engineering, science and technology innovation since the inception of the O’Donnell awards in 2006. The awards are named in honor of Edith and Peter O’Donnell, who are among Texas’ staunchest advocates for excellence in scientific advancement and STEM education. Read more about the 2019 Edith and Peter O’Donnell Awards recipients.

The recipients will be honored during the O’Donnell Awards dinner and reception on Tuesday, January 15, 2019, at the TAMEST Annual Conference: Neuroscience and Brain Health. The conference takes place January 14–16, 2019, at the Horseshoe Bay Resort outside of Austin, Texas.Media are encouraged to attend the ceremony and the conference.


TAMEST (The Academy of Medicine, Engineering and Science of Texas) is the state’s premier scientific organization, bringing together Texas’ best and brightest scientists and researchers. TAMEST membership includes all Texas-based members of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine and the state’s Nobel Laureates.


TAMEST News and Updates

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.
Share This