Frances Arnold, Linus Pauling Professor of Chemical Engineering, Bioengineering and Biochemistry, has been elected to the American Philosophical Society along with 34 other new members. The American Philosophical Society is the oldest learned society in the United States and was founded in 1743 by Benjamin Franklin for the purpose of "promoting useful knowledge."
Arnold pioneered directed evolution in the early 1990s, a method that allows researchers to develop new and better enzymes for a range of products, including biofuels, pharmaceuticals, agricultural chemicals, paper products, and more. Directed evolution works in much the same way that new breeds of horses and dogs are created, only in this case the principles of evolution are exploited in a lab to create improved enzymes. For instance, in 2009, Arnold and her team engineered enzymes that break down cellulose, the main component of plant-cell walls, creating better catalysts for turning agricultural wastes into fuels and chemicals.
More recently, she and her colleagues used the method to persuade bacteria to make chemicals not found in nature, including molecules containing silicon-carbon or boron-carbon bonds, and bicyclobutanes, which contain energy-packed carbon rings. By using bacteria, researchers can potentially make these chemical compounds in "greener" ways that are more economical and produce less toxic waste.
In 2016, Arnold was the first woman to receive the Millennium Technology Prize, granted by the Technology Academy Finland, and she was the first woman to receive the 2011 Charles Stark Draper Prize from the National Academy of Engineering (NAE). She is among the small number of individuals, and the first woman, elected to all three branches of the National Academies—the NAE (2000), the National Academy of Medicine (2004; it was then called the Institute of Medicine), and the National Academy of Sciences (NAS; 2008). She received the National Medal of Technology and Innovation in 2013 and was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2014. She has won numerous other awards, including the 2017 Sackler Prize in Convergence Research from the NAS and the Society of Women Engineers' 2017 Achievement Award.
Thirty three Caltech researchers have been elected to the American Philosophical Society to date. More information about the society is online here.