Professor Michelle Chang
Winner: 2022 Centenary Prize
University of California, Berkeley
For seminal contributions in biosynthesis and biocatalysis to advance energy and environmental science and biomedical research, and for excellence in communication.
Professor Michelle Chang
Professor Chang’s group focuses on the discovery and engineering of new enzymes and pathways, both in vitro and in living cells, in order to develop new approaches to the production of compounds we use in society. This move towards enzymes and cells to make useful molecules such as drugs, materials, or fuels, means they can take advantage of natural solutions to longstanding challenges in catalysis.Read winner biography
Michelle Chang is a professor at the University of California (UC), Berkeley, in the departments of chemistry, chemical and biomolecular engineering, and molecular and cell biology. She received her PhD from MIT and her postdoctoral training at UC Berkeley. Her research group works at the interface of enzymology and synthetic biology, studying how to utilise biocatalysis to produce pharmaceuticals, materials, fuels and other commodity chemicals using green chemistry.
Professor Chang has received the Dreyfus New Faculty Award, Beckman Young Investigator Award, NSF CAREER Award, Agilent Early Career Award, NIH New Innovator Award, DARPA Young Faculty Award, Camille Dreyfus Teacher-Scholar Award, 3M Young Faculty Award, Arthur C Cope Scholar Award, and Pfizer Award in Enzyme Chemistry.
How did you first become interested in chemistry?
I first became interested in chemistry in high school because it was the first science class that made sense to me! I also had a great high school chemistry teacher who really spent a lot of time to make the class fun and accessible on a real-life basis, and I think that also played a big part of my interest in chemistry.
Why is chemistry important?
We joke about it, but I really do believe that chemistry is the central science. It spans a huge range from physical chemistry to synthetic chemistry to chemical biology. Chemistry serves as a mechanistic underpinning to understand molecular phenomena, providing enough physical and mathematical detail to think about atoms yet with a broad enough viewpoint to explore reactions and complex biological systems. As chemists, we also create molecules that transform what is technologically possible, such as new drugs or new materials, which can change the course of human society.
What does good research culture look like/mean to you?
I think good research culture forms the foundation of science, both in advancing science as well as people's careers. I think that trust between all laboratory members (advisors included!) is important so that we can start from a place where we acknowledge that we have each other's best interest at heart. On my end, this means trying to create an atmosphere where students can speak freely about both science and their personal career goals because that's the only way I can help people to overcome either challenges in their experiments or concerns about their future.
How are the chemical sciences making the world a better place?
Chemistry is ultimately about transformations and as such has always been a vehicle for change. It's through chemistry that we develop new technology and it's also through chemistry that we may recognise the potential large-scale impacts of those new technologies. Human civilisation has long since relied on chemicals and chemical transformations since pre-history, such as the making of leavened bread or the development of art forms like photography. I think the challenge before us is how we use chemistry to carry out industrial-scale processes like manufacture, farming, transportation, or waste management in ways that allow us to sustain the planet.