Wisconsin engineer earns presidential award

April 15, 2014

by Renee Meiller

U.S. President Barack Obama honored an outstanding University of Wisconsin-Madison engineer this week when he recognized recipients of the Presidential Early Career Awards for Scientists and Engineers.

Jennifer Reed

Jennifer Reed

Jennifer Reed, a UW-Madison associate professor of chemical and biological engineering, is among 102 recipients of the award, which is the highest honor the U.S. government bestows on science and engineering professionals in the early stages of their independent research careers.

Through experiments and computer models, Reed studies photosynthetic microbes such as cyanobacteria. Using what she learns about their metabolic processes, Reed hopes to engineer those photosynthetic microbes to produce the biofuel butanol from sunlight and carbon dioxide.

White House ceremony

President Barack Obama talks with the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE) recipients in the East Room of the White House, April 14, 2014.

Official White House Photo: Pete Souza

She and her students model and predict the microbe's behavior, determine the best ways to alter the microbe so that it produces certain chemicals, and then engineer that microbe in the lab. Her goal is to develop an "all-in-one" organism that can accomplish everything from CO2 fixation to chemical production.

Reed also is a researcher in the UW-Madison-led Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center. In 2012, she received a $750,000 U.S. Department of Energy Office of Biological and Environmental Research early-career award to study cyanobacteria for sustainable biofuel production; in 2011 she earned a National Science Foundation CAREER award to develop approaches to learn more about metabolic and regulatory networks in Shewanella oneidensis, a bacterium with applications such as microbial fuel cells.