Hal Alper Elected to National Academy of Inventors

Hal Alper stands in his office.Hal Alper, professor in the McKetta Department of Chemical Engineering has been selected as a fellow in the prestigious National Academy of Inventors (NAI) for 2018. He and Alex Huang (Electrical and Computer Engineering) are the latest faculty members from The University of Texas at Austin to receive this honor, joining 11 previous inductees from the university.

The researchers were chosen by the NAI Fellows Selection Committee for demonstrating “a highly prolific spirit of innovation in creating or facilitating outstanding inventions that have made a tangible impact on the quality of life, economic development and welfare of society” and will be officially inducted in a ceremony in Houston on April 11, 2019.

Being inducted into the NAI and joining its community of 4,000 accomplished inventors takes more than just innovative thinking. Founded in 2010, the NAI aims to recognize and encourage inventors with patents issued from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office with an overall emphasis on innovation that clearly benefits society.

Alper’s research focuses on biochemical engineering in the fields of metabolic engineering and synthetic biology. His pioneering work, which aims to harness the chemistry within cells to create new bio-friendly molecules and materials that replace harmful alternatives currently used for fuels and pharmaceuticals, has been internationally recognized during the past decade.

His work in the production of chemicals using microbial systems is not only sustainable and renewable but also scalable, and it is a competitive alternative to the existing petrochemicals widely used in manufacturing. Alper’s inventions have already enabled new technologies, leading to seven U.S.-issued patents to date, with six additional patents pending as well as technologies licensed to several companies. In 2016, he was recognized for these accomplishments by being named UT’s Emerging Inventor of the Year.

“Since I was a child, I always enjoyed tinkering with things,” Alper said. “I think the first step toward inventorship is trying to find new ways of thinking about efficiency — that is the essence of invention. Often, innovation is about thinking through a commonly studied problem in a new way and with a fresh perspective.”

Alper cites failure — and how one copes with it — as a crucial element to the success of any inventor.

“I’d say the most important characteristic of the inventor is being unaffected by failure,” he said. “Ironically, failure is an integral part of success. And having that ambition and a desire to explore the unknown is crucial to gaining the perspective required to think about solving problems in new ways.”

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