Ruben Carbonell, Frank Hawkins Kenan Distinguished Professor of Chemical Engineering at North Carolina State University, has been honored with the O. Max Gardner Award, the most significant universitywide honor given to faculty by the University of North Carolina System, for his contributions in engineering, health care, education and public policy.
The award is presented each year to one faculty member from the system’s 17 campuses recognized as having “made the greatest contribution to the welfare of the human race.”
Carbonell’s distinguished career at NC State includes significant contributions in research, entrepreneurism, administrative leadership, and service to the university community and the general public.
Carbonell was a co-principal investigator in the proposal that led to the launch, in March 2017, of the National Institute for Innovation in Manufacturing Biopharmaceuticals (NIIMBL). Made possible by a $70 million commitment from the National Institute of Standards and Technology over five years, NIIMBL is dedicated to accelerating innovation in biopharmaceutical manufacturing and developing a world-leading workforce to help drive the future of a vitally important industry to the U.S. economy and to patients suffering from chronic and deadly diseases throughout the world. Serving as chief technology officer for NIIMBL, Carbonell drives the technology roadmap for NIIMBL and launches technical projects that address industry needs.
His main area of research is molecular recognition of biological molecules using ligands derived from combinatorial libraries, and their applications to separations, detection and pathogen removal. Carbonell and colleagues published two landmark papers in the prestigious journals Transfusion and The Lancet, reporting for the very first time the removal of the infectious prion protein responsible for the transmission of mad cow disease in humans from whole blood. In addition, Carbonell and his group created an innovative filter composed of nonwoven fabrics impregnated with resin particles containing a ligand that can be used to process human blood to remove prion proteins prior to transfusions into patients. This filter is now being manufactured by MacoPharma in Lille, France, and subject to successful completion of clinical safety trials, should be adopted by the United Kingdom. Carbonell has more than 240 papers published in leading research journals, and has been involved in the creation of three start-up companies.
In 2016, Carbonell was elected a Fellow of the National Academy of Inventors in recognition of the breadth, range and quality of his patent portfolio, which includes nearly 40 U.S. patents and many more foreign counterparts. He is a member of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers and the American Chemical Society’s Industrial and Engineering Chemistry Division. Because of the significant research made with collaborators from Slovenia and Italy, Carbonell was elected a foreign member of the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and of the Academy of Sciences at the University of Bologna. He also received the 2007 Alexander Quarles Holladay Medal for Excellence, NC State’s highest faculty award.
As director of NC State’s Kenan Institute, Carbonell established the Kenan Fellows Program for Teacher Leadership, an innovative program to nurture teacher-leaders through a yearlong mentorship with university faculty and industry partners aimed at developing novel curriculum tools to bring groundbreaking research to K-12 students. The National Science Foundation has recognized this as an excellent model for university outreach to schools, and several groups in other states are developing similar programs.
Carbonell received his bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering from Manhattan College, and his master’s degree and Ph.D. in chemical engineering from Princeton University. He spent 10 years as a professor at the University of California, Davis, before arriving at NC State in 1984.
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