Adam Heller Wins Service to Society Award

Dr. Adam Heller receiving AIChE Service to Society AwardAdam Heller, a research professor in the McKetta Department of Chemical Engineering, has been awarded the 2014 Service to Society Award from the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE).

The award recognizes outstanding contributions by a chemical engineer to community service and to the solution of socially oriented problems. Heller is being honored for his invention of medical devices that have improved the quality of life of billions of people suffering from diabetes and other diseases worldwide.

Heller was a key member of the team that developed the FreeStyle™ blood glucose monitoring system of TheraSense, a company founded by Heller’s son, Ephraim. FreeStyle™ became available in 2000 and made monitoring blood-sugar levels in people with diabetes painless throughrequiring a minuscule blood sample and allowing users to test on forearms and not just the fingers.

In 2004, Abbott Laboratories acquired TheraSense. Abbott’s FreeStyle™ Navigator (2008) and FreeStyle™ Libre (2014) systems continuously and accurately monitor subcutaneous glucose levels in diabetes patients. By providing on demand glucose readings, they make it easier to regulate sugar levels.  The principles of their sensors were established by Heller’s engineering research at UT Austin.

“This technology will help a large number of patients avoid acute diabetic episodes and death,” said Jeff Hubbell, biomedical engineering professor at the Integrative Biosciences Institute and the Institute for Chemical Sciences and Engineering at Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, Switzerland. “Even more patients will avoid long-term complications of diabetes, such as heart disease, blindness and limb amputation, and will live longer, happier lives. Thus, his impact on mankind is remarkable.”

In addition to contributions to diabetes management, Heller developed one of the first the liquid lasers in 1966, which has been used in various medical therapies. In 1972, he co-created the lithium thionyl chloride battery with James J. Auborn while working at GTE Labs.  The battery, one of the first lithium batteries to be manufactured, has been used in numerous applications, including implanted medical devices for pain management or epilepsy management, and automatic external defibrillators. Today, the battery remains in use because of its exceptional energy capacity, broad operating temperature range and 20-year shelf life.

Just as inspiring as Heller’s scientific contributions is the story behind his ambition to help others. At the age of 11, Heller was detained in a concentration camp for five months during World War II. His experience of surviving the Holocaust inspired him to dedicate his life’s work to helping save human lives.

Headshot of Dr. Adam Heller wearing a red collared shirt, sitting in front of a black backdrop.“I am fortunate for having been able to reduce pain and suffering through working with wonderful colleagues, includingmy son, and students,” said Adam Heller. “I am grateful for the opportunities I’ve had to work on projects that have really made a difference in people’s lives.”

Heller earned his Ph.D. from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem in 1961. He had a productive career in industry, first at GTE Labs then at Bell Labs, before joining the faculty at UT Austin’s Cockrell School of Engineering in 1988.

“Adam Heller is a rare breed — an ember plucked from the fires of the Holocaust who overcame adversity to use his creativity and extraordinary intellect to make life better for us all,” said Elazer Edelman, professor of health sciences and technology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, and senior attending physician in the coronary care unit at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. “His work and life lay testimony to the power chemical engineering can provide to community and society. We are blessed that he will carry this service award as an ambassador and role model.”

Heller also received the National Medal of Technology and Innovationfrom President George W. Bush in 2007 and has been granted 230 U.S. patents and published 265 papers.

The Service to Society Award was presented Nov. 16 at the Honors Ceremony during AIChE’s 2014 Annual Meeting in Atlanta, Georgia.


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