Carnegie Mellon University and University of Pittsburgh photo by Rob Larson.

Last year, renowned researcher and Wilkinsburg native Dr. Frances Arnold joined Marie Curie as one of only five women to win the Nobel Prize for Chemistry, which the Swedish organization has awarded for more than 100 years.

Next week, Dr. Arnold will be in Oakland to tell her story and hopefully inspire the next generation of scientific trailblazers. She is the keynote speaker for the 2019 Life Sciences Week, hosted by Pittsburgh Innovation District, a development group focusing on Oakland’s collection of cutting-edge research facilities.

“We are elated and honored to welcome Dr. Frances Arnold back to Pittsburgh as part of Life Sciences Week this year,” says Pittsburgh Innovation District Executive Director Sean Luther. “She is an inspiration to the scientific communities in Pittsburgh and around the world, and we are so fortunate to frame this event with her pioneering work.”

In the early 90’s, Arnold pioneered a technique which allowed scientists to direct the growth and evolution of enzymes, proteins that trigger chemical reactions, in a lab setting. Through this technique, which Frances and other researchers have developed over the last two decades, chemists can create new reactions that produce scientifically and commercially useful reactions.

Arnold’s innovations have been applied to a wide range of industries, from biofuels to textiles, and earned her a 2011 National Medal of Technology and Innovation from President Barrack Obama.

Since 1986, she has been on the faculty at the California Institute of Technology and currently serves as the Linus Pauling Professor of Chemical Engineering, Bioengineering and Biochemistry as well as the Director of the school’s Rosen Bioengineering Center.

Dr. Frances Arnold (PRNewsfoto/Pittsburgh Innovation District).

“I think of what I do as copying nature’s design process,” said Arnold in an interview with the Nobel committee after her award was announced. “All this tremendous beauty and complexity of the biological world all comes about through this one simple beautiful design algorithm.”

Now in its second year, Life Sciences Week brings together researchers, startups and larger corporations for discussions and networking opportunities aimed at spurring innovation and cross-sector collaboration.

Running May 13-17, the event will include panels on a wide range of life sciences themes, such as “Driving Biomedical Research with AI and Robotics” and “Health Information Technologies and Health Literacy.”

In addition, the 2019 AlphLab Gear Hardware Cup will be awarded Wednesday, May 15.

“Pittsburgh was a wonderful place to grow up — diverse and complex, one could go from one culture to a completely different one in just a few blocks. It was a whole world in one city,” said Dr. Arnold via a press release. “I learned how to navigate the world, and life’s potholes, in Pittsburgh.”

Bill O'Toole

Bill O'Toole was a full-time reporter for NEXTpittsburgh until October, 2019. He previously reported in Myanmar.