Memorial Tributes: National Academy of Engineering, Volume 24
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  • DANIEL I.C. WANG 1936-2020


    DANIEL I-CHYAU WANG, Institute Professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and an early pioneer in the field of biotechnology, died August 29, 2020, at the age of 84. He was recognized around the world as one of the founders of biochemical engineering, a field that arose from inter disciplinary studies in chemical engineering, food science, environmental engineering, biology, microbiology, genetics, and other related disciplines.

    Danny, as he was generally called, was born in Nanking, China, on March 12, 1936. He came with his family to the United States in 1946 when his father was appointed supply commissioner in the Chinese Consulate by the Nationalist government. He earned a bachelor of science degree in 1959, followed by a master’s in 1961, both from MIT in chemical engineering. In 1963 he earned his PhD, also in chemical engineering, from the University of Pennsylvania with Arthur E. Humphrey, who became a lifelong friend; his thesis was “The kinetics of death of bacterial spores at elevated temperatures.”

    He joined the MIT faculty in 1965, hired as an assistant professor of biochemical engineering in the Department of Nutrition and Food Science, which housed the BCE program. Within a few years he had initiated the fermentation technology summer program; it has run continuously since then and is now under the guidance of Kristala Prather.

    In 1985 Danny was the driving force behind the launch of MIT’s Biotechnology Process Engineering Center, a multi-disciplinary research center with faculty from the Departments of Biology, Chemistry, and Chemical Engineering. Its establishment coincided with the emergence of biotechnology as an industry and a research field.

    He also worked to forge international ties between MIT and universities in other countries, particularly in Asia. He established a joint program in molecular engineering of biological and chemical systems with the National University of Singapore; it became part of the Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology (SMART).

    He coauthored five books, published more than 250 papers, was editor in chief of Biotechnology and Bioengineering (1984–90),1 and was awarded 15 patents. In 1995 he was named an Institute Professor, MIT’s highest faculty honor.

    “Danny’s work and impact in the field of biochemical engineering were profound, and led to a major shift in the growth of chemical engineering at the interface with biology,” said Paula T. Hammond, the David H. Koch Professor and head of the MIT Department of Chemical Engineering. “He extended chemical engineering concepts to bioreactors and the first efforts in bioprocesses, enzyme technology, and mammalian cell culture.”

    At the national level, Danny led efforts in biotechnology as an elected member of the council of the National Academy of Engineering (1995–98) and service on the NAE Membership Committee (1989–95, including a term as chair) and Bioengineering Peer Committee (1987–89); and through his appointments to serve on the National Research Council’s Committee on Opportunities in Biotechnology for Future Army Applications (1999–2001), Committee on Biobased Industrial Products: National Research and Commercialization Priorities (1994–99), Committee on Bioprocess Engineering (1991–93), Board on Chemical Sciences and Technology (1990–93), Committee on Biotechnology (1988–95), and Committee on a National Strategy for Biotechnology in Agriculture (1984–87).

    In addition, he was a cofounder of the Society for Biological Engineering of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE), and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the National Biotechnology Policy Board at the National Institutes of Health.

    For his contributions he was honored with the AIChE William H. Walker Award (1994) and the Amgen Biochemical Engineering Award (1995). In 2014 MIT’s Frontiers of Biotechnology Lectureship was renamed the Daniel I.C. Wang Lecture; it honors achievements at the frontiers of biotechnology, and the distinguished scientists and engineers responsible for them. In 2019 AIChE established the annual D.I.C. Wang Award for Excellence in Biochemical Engineering, which “recognizes individuals for their contributions to the field and to the practice of biochemical engineering through their position in industry or academia as exemplified by Professor Wang in his 50 years of contributions.”

    Danny loved to travel, cook, and eat. He traveled all over the world and, whether in Paris, Zürich, or Singapore, would find the finest Chinese restaurant in the city. He was also extremely competitive and derived significant pleasure from beating his students at tennis and poker. He relished spending time with his granddaughters.

    Daniel I.C. Wang is survived by his wife of 54 years, Victoria (née Dawn); their son Keith (Katherine); and two granddaughters.

    1 In December 2020 the journal published a detailed appreciation of Danny Wang’s career and contributions: Afeyan NB, Cooney CL. Professor Daniel I.C. Wang: A Legacy of Education, Innovation, Publication, and Leadership. Biotechnology and Bioengineering 117(2):3615–27 (https:// 

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