Chemical engineering professor studying microbiomes receives national honor

Portrait of Joshua Chan, assistant professor of Chemical and Biological Engineering
Portrait of Joshua Chan, assistant professor of Chemical and Biological Engineering

Joshua Chan, a Colorado State University assistant professor in Chemical and Biological Engineering, has received a national award from the Oak Ridge Associated Universities intended to promote professional growth of rising stars.

Chan was one of only 35 faculty selected nationally, and the only one in Colorado, for the Ralph E. Powe Junior Faculty Enhancement Awards Program out of 167 applicants. The honor comes with a $10,000 grant.

His research focuses on modeling and engineering microbiomes, which are the combined genetic material of all the microbes living in a particular environment like the human gut, the soil on a farm, or the bottom of a lake. Ultimately, natural and synthetic microbiomes can be manipulated and constructed to address global challenges including food security, climate change, human diseases, and sustainable chemical productions.

CSU a microbome powerhouse

The university has invested heavily in microbiome science and engineering in recent years because of its legacy of excellence in the field across disciplines. That initiative, which began in 2015, led to new faculty hires including Chan.

“Dr. Chan exemplifies the outstanding group of young faculty whom we were able to attract through that effort,” said Sonia Kreidenweis, Associate Dean for Research in the Walter Scott, Jr. College of Engineering. “Our college and the chemical and biological engineering department were thrilled to have the opportunity to participate in this cluster hire initiative, which has produced significantly relevant research and provided collaboration opportunities for early-career faculty.”

Chan developed an algorithm to predict the composition and metabolism of the gut microbiome using genome-scale metabolic models that capture the metabolic capabilities of representative microorganisms. The algorithm can be potentially used to identify strategies for altering the gut microbiome through dietary changes.

“Microbiome research led by Dr. Chan continues to put the university, and the chemical and biological engineering department, at the forefront of this field,” said David Dandy, department head.

Chan is also part of a large CSU-led U.S. Department of Energy grant announced in October 2019. The multi-institutional team, led by fellow chemical and biological engineering professor Ken Reardon, was awarded $5.1 million to make technologically sound, economically sensible improvements to anaerobic digestion of organic waste materials in newly designed bioreactors.

Chan is the third CSU engineering faculty member to receive the Oak Ridge Associated Universities honor. Shantanu Jathar, assistant professor of Mechanical Engineering, received the award in 2016, and Ellison Carter, assistant professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering, in 2018.

Through a consortium of more than 100 universities, Oak Ridge Associated Universities provides innovative scientific and technical solutions for the U.S. Department of Energy and other federal agencies to advance national priorities in science, health and education.