This September ChemE welcomes new Assistant Professor Chris Lawson, an emerging leader in the field of environmental biotechnology and microbiome engineering. His research focuses on harnessing the metabolic processes of anaerobic microbiomes for sustainable wastewater treatment and the production of renewable bioenergy and bioproducts from waste resources. Professor Lawson is an expert in developing systems and synthetic biology approaches to understand and engineer the metabolism of microbial communities (“microbiomes”). His most recent work focuses on integrating automation, synthetic biology, and machine learning to biologically produce high-value chemicals from renewable feedstocks (e.g. lignocellulose, wastes) using engineered microbiomes. Professor Lawson also develops state-of-the-art metabolomic and metaproteomic approaches to quantifying metabolic interactions and fluxes in microbial communities. His research accomplishments have been recognized by the Outstanding Doctoral Dissertation Award and the W. Wesley Eckenfelder Graduate Research Award by the Association of Environmental Engineering and Science Professors (AEESP), as well as the Canham Graduate Studies Scholarship from the Water Environment Federation (WEF).
Why did you choose U of T?
I chose U of T because it is a world class research and teaching university that will allow me to reach my full potential as a scientist and educator. In particular, I was very excited about the opportunity to work in the Centre for Applied Biosciences and Bioengineering (BioZone), which has strengths in industrial and environmental biotechnology and many great scientists to collaborate with.
As a professor, what advice do you have for new students?
Take on new challenges, never stop learning, seek opportunities to exchange knowledge with others and challenge your thinking, and most importantly follow your passions.
What are you most looking forward to in your new position?
I am most excited about working with students, staff, and other professors to tackle challenging and important research problems at the interface of biology and engineering. I also look forward to sharing my passion for water engineering and biotechnology through classroom teaching at the undergraduate and graduate level.
What do you hope to accomplish during your time at U of T Engineering?
I hope to train students to become leading engineers and scientists that make an impact on solving pressing societal problems related to energy, health, and the environment using biotechnology.
How have your global experiences shaped you as a teacher? What has been most rewarding about having these global experiences, personally and professionally?
I’ve been fortunate to study in different settings during my graduate and postdoc studies, including Canada (UBC), the US (UW-Madison, Berkeley Lab), and the Netherlands (Radboud, TU-Delft). Each of these experiences allowed me to interact and learn from diverse people with different perspectives than my own. In the lab, I was exposed to new philosophies and approaches to problem solving, research, teaching, and communication. Outside the lab, I was exposed to different cultures, foods, languages, beliefs, customs, and day-to-day norms. Collectively, these experiences broadened my research and teaching skills by as I was able to learn new (and often better) approaches in the lab or classroom. They also helped to shape me as a person by breaking down stereotypes and increasing my respect for different ways of life.
What is something most people might not know about you?
I have a twin brother (Keith Lawson) who also works at U of T! So if you see me walking down College Street be sure to look extra close because it could actually be him!