Behind the serene glass panels of the Malone Engineering Center, the Wilson lab is bustling with activity. Calorimeters, incubators, and centrifuges of all sizes adorn the walls of the main room. Through the window, three undergraduate students can be seen performing various experiments at the lab benches, while in the back room, a graduate student is busy isolating proteins on a high-performance liquid chromatography system. Despite being only one year old, the Wilson Laboratory’s primary facility is already fully operational, and a separate laser facility is soon to come.
Assistant Professor Corey Wilson is a new addition to the Chemical Engineering Department at Yale, joining the faculty in July 2008. He is one of five Chemical Engineering professors to be awarded a National Science Foundation (NSF) research grant, and he is also a recent winner of the University of Houston Early Achievement Award.
Wilson’s laboratory utilizes an integrated multidisciplinary approach to protein engineering, aiming to design and synthesize a “non-natural electron transfer system” from scratch. He hopes to create a model of naturally existing electron-transfer systems that can ultimately be used as an energy-producing apparatus. Such a project has broad impacts in bio-industrial and biomedical settings, including sustainable energy, tissue engineering, and even gene therapy.
Perhaps one of the most important attributes of protein engineering is its multidisciplinary nature, an approach that sums up the young professor’s philosophy on scientific progress. “I really think this effort benefits from bringing together scientists from different areas,” he says. “I enjoy working with chemists, engineers, and physicists. It really brings different vantage points together in solving problems.” He goes on to predict that “the most interesting science will come in the next 20 years from interactions with people from vastly different areas.”
The Wilson laboratory itself is a reflection of this philosophy. In fact, the laboratory setup bears such striking resemblances to biophysics and molecular biology labs that only the Yale School of Engineering crest proudly emblazoned upon the front door can distinguish the lab from its counterparts on Science Hill. However, any member of the Wilson Lab can attest that biology is only one component of protein engineering, which involves both in vitro and in silico endeavors.
“Biology is the theory, but the hard part comes with the computation,” Wilson explains. “I want my lab to be a familiar setting to a biologist, but I also want an engineering student here to feel like they are getting the rigor they signed up for.”
Wilson’s emphasis on the multidisciplinary approach extends beyond the laboratory setting. He is currently organizing a new “Biomolecular Engineering” track for undergraduate Chemical Engineering majors, which will be available to students in the fall of 2010. Students would be allowed and encouraged to expand beyond the traditional chemical engineering experience, indulging in courses across the scientific spectrum.