Frances Arnold, professor of chemical engineering, bioengineering and biochemistry at the California Institute of Technology and director of its Donna and Benjamin M. Rosen Bioengineering Center, has been awarded the 2016 Millennium Technology Prize. Presented every two years by the Technological Academy of Finland, it comes with a monetary award of $1.2 million and goes to those who have contributed to technological innovations put into practice that enhance the quality of human life in a sustainable way. Arnold is the first woman to be presented with this prize, which was established in 2004.
Arnold is recognized for her pioneering work in the field of directed evolution. Based on natural evolution, she focuses on creating and improving proteins in the laboratory. The results have applications in medicine, neurobiology, chemical synthesis and alternative energy. Arnold and her research group at CalTech also construct synthetic families of enzymes and other proteins for further study.
Among her numerous honors, most recently Arnold was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame, was elected a fellow of the National Academy of Inventors and was awarded the ENI Prize in Renewable and Nonconventional Energy, the U.S. National Medal of Technology and Innovation, and the Charles Stark Draper Prize of the U.S. National Academy of Engineering. In 2016 she was appointed to the board of directors at Illumina, a company making DNA sequencing and array-based technologies available to research, clinical and applied markets for application in life sciences, oncology, reproductive health and agriculture.
Arnold’s undergraduate degree is in mechanical and aerospace engineering, received from Princeton in 1979. She later earned a Ph.D. in chemical engineering from the University of California-Berkeley.