Biotech inventor Robert Langer wins Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering

MIT professor Robert Langer added the Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering to his lengthy list of laurels.  (Photo: QEPrize Foundation)
MIT professor Robert Langer added the Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering to his lengthy list of laurels. (Photo: QEPrize Foundation)

In a city teeming with scientists and inventors, MIT professor and biotech entrepreneur Robert Langer is practically royalty. But the latest of his laurels is an award that comes straight from Buckingham Palace.

Langer is the winner of the Queen Elizabeth Prize in Engineering, an award of £1 million ($1.5 million), the QEPrize Foundation announced Tuesday. Langer will travel to Buckingham Palace to receive the award, which will be presented by Queen Elizabeth herself.

“It’s a real thrill, a real honor,” Langer said. “I feel incredible lucky.”

Langer is best known for his work in tissue engineering, and designing packaging for drugs to enable them to effectively reach their target. This Institute professor is one busy scientist, with more than 1,000 patents, a hand in several emerging and established biotech companies, and one of the largest labs at MIT.

He’s also among the most decorated innovators anywhere. Over the last few decades, he’s received the National Medal of Science, National Medal of Technology and Innovation, the Priestly medal, the Draper prize, and the Kyoto Prize, among some 200 others.

The QEPrize “is intended to recognize those particular feats of engineering that have made a significant impact on human existence,” Duke of Edinburgh Prince Philip wrote in an op-ed published in New Scientist magazine in January.

And it’s been awarded just once before. In 2013, the foundation distributed the $1.5 million among the engineers and scientists who laid down the foundation for the Internet and World Wide Web. This included MIT professor Tim Berners-Lee, Google vice president and “chief Internet evangelist” Vinton Cerf, and Mark Andreessen, who co-created the Mosaic browser and co-founded Netscape before entering the world of investment.

Among awards given to scientists, the QEPrize is among those with the biggest purse. At the top of the stack is the Breakthrough Prize, an award launched by Mark Zuckerberg, Yuri Milner, Anne Wojcicki, and others in 2013 (each of the winners take home $3 million). In 2014, Langer won that too.

Nidhi Subbaraman writes about science and research. Email her at nidhi.subbaraman@globe.com.
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