Frances Arnold was honored with the 2017 Raymond and Beverly Sackler Prize in Convergence by the National Academy of Sciences for her accomplishments in directed evolution. This work, pioneered by Arnold in the 1990’s, has since gained global recognition as a method to produce biological enzymes in a laboratory. These engineered enzymes can then be applied to create sustainable biofuels, pharmaceuticals and industrial products in more environmentally friendly ways. Her research has led to, for example, an efficient break down of plant cellulose to make biofuels, the manufacture of a less toxic and less costly drug for type 2 diabetes, and the creation of silicon-carbon bonds.
Arnold received her BSE in mechanical and aerospace engineering from Princeton in 1979 and went on to earn a Ph.D. in chemical engineering from the University of California-Berkeley in 1985. The following year she started her career at CalTech, becoming the Dick and Barbara Dickinson Professor of Chemical Engineering in 2000 and director of the Donna and Benjamin M. Rosen Bioengineering Center in 2013.