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Cong Trinh, an assistant professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at UT, has become a nationally recognized researcher for his work on bioengineering processes capable of turning waste products into commercial goods.

Cong Trinh

The National Science Foundation recently chose Trinh for one of its prestigious NSF CAREER awards, given to promising young faculty members as a way to support particular areas of research.

“This is a great honor for me and a very nice acknowledgement of the research my team and I are doing,” said Trinh. “I’m eager to get to work on further researching synthetic biology and the improvements it can mean.”

Trinh’s research, conducted through the NSF’s Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences, will benefit what are known as microbial manufacturing platforms.

He and his team are developing ways of taking a wide variety of bio- or waste materials ranging from lignocellulosic biomass to carbon dioxide and methane and using biological methods to convert them into products such as industrial chemicals.

The team has developed the concept of modular cells with the idea that the eventual microbial manufacturing platforms can be easily interchanged. The team is currently applying this concept to make unique chemical compounds called esters that can be used as flavors, fragrances, green solvents and biofuels in a sustainable and renewable manner.

To better understand the real-world implications, think of the ease of putting a frozen pizza in the oven versus making one from scratch.

By being able to simply place a new pizza in the oven instead of having to make all its components every time, you save immeasurable time and effort. In much the same way, being able to plug in a new microbial manufacturing platform would save time and effort by avoiding having to build new ones each time.

“We hope to develop the basic design concepts behind building the microbial platforms,” said Trinh. “That will allow for far more efficient biosynthesis of the final materials.”

In addition to the scientific achievements, Trinh pointed out that the project will have secondary benefits far from the lab.

Part of the project includes workshops for K–12 students, helping expose them to high-level STEM concepts. In addition, UT students helping with the project will gain invaluable hands-on experience.

The award brings with it $500,000 in funding for five years.



David Goddard (865-974-0683,