Michael R. Ladisch is a professor at Purdue University who has worked with and led teams that have built prototypes that help to translate research form the laboratory to commercial applications. As an engineer he applies his experience to the classroom based on his experience as Director of the Laboratory of Renewable Resources Engineering (LORRE), and Distinguished Professor of Agricultural and Biological Engineering with a joint appointment in the Weldon School of Biomedical Engineering. He was CTO at Mascoma Corporation from 2007 to 2013 and serves on Agrivida’s SAB. His BS (1973) from Drexel University and MS (1974) and PhD (1977) from Purdue University are in Chemical Engineering.
Ladisch’s research addresses transformation of renewable resources into biofuels and bioproducts, protein bioseparations, and food pathogen detection. Within this framework of fundamental research, he is an author of two textbooks, numerous journal papers, and 20 patents. He anticipated and led teams that made pilot systems that remove water from biofuels, ferment wood to ethanol, and carry out large scale protein separations, and as well as instruments that rapidly detect food pathogens. Coupled with textbooks and papers, these tangible products are employed to educate students to carry their skills and knowledge to make contributions in the fields of agricultural, biological and biomedical engineering.
The tools that are important to making new things are a combination of teamwork with my colleagues in many different disciplines, experiences from starting up a company, a supportive environment, education as an engineer, and enthusiastic and hard-working students. This results in assembling new knowledge in order to understand how things work; presenting the new knowledge to others for critique and improvement; and applying the new knowledge to build prototypes that embody discoveries in a useful and usable form.
The biggest challenges are encountered after new discoveries, developed in the laboratory, are first translated into an industrial environment. It is difficult to anticipate all of the factors that may impact implementation of a new technology until it moves from the laboratory to an industrial setting. Hence packaging a new technology so that it works – and works well – and then providing exemplary customer support when problems arise, is a challenge all Makers face. A combination of people skills, teamwork, patience and responsiveness, coupled to a deep knowledge of the technology is key to solutions.
Translating discoveries from laboratory to use, while educating students to pursue excellence at all levels, so that they are able to lead maker activities.
Communicating the pathway for translation that may apply to some types of discoveries, and catalyzing interest in translational activities in addition to fundamental research and classroom teaching.
By increasing the speed with which fundamental research (and the discoveries that it generates) is moved into practice to the benefit of people, industry, and the environment.
Balancing educational requirements, research excellence and the need to learn fundamentals with the tremendous energy and effort required to achieve meaningful translation and follow-through if meaningful advances in technology are to be achieved.
Application of knowledge into tangible products will be an important method by which innovation is achieved in a measureable way. Students will need to understand the process, so even if not directly involved in it, they will understand what is needed to translate new discoveries into use, and thereby be able to contribute to the translation process in an indirect manner.
Be prepared for an exciting career, but at the same time also be prepared to work hard, exhibit persistence, and apply your education to make new innovations work – and work well.