Christopher Voigt named head of the Department of Biological Engineering

Professor Christopher Voigt has been named the next head of the Department of Biological Engineering.

Synthetic biology expert to succeed Angela Belcher as department head effective Aug. 1.

Mary Beth Gallagher | School of Engineering

June 20, 2023

Christopher Voigt, the Daniel I.C. Wang Professor of Biological Engineering, has been named the new head of the Department of Biological Engineering effective Aug. 1.

“Professor Voigt is truly a pioneer in the field of synthetic biology. His research is incredibly interdisciplinary, so he has extensive experience working across a diverse range of fields and industries. He also is a dedicated educator and valued member of the biological engineering faculty,” says Anantha Chandrakasan, dean of the MIT School of Engineering and the Vannevar Bush Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. “I am thrilled that he will serve as the next head of our biological engineering department and know that he will be an exceptional leader.”

A renowned expert in synthetic biology, Voigt currently serves as co-director of the Synthetic Biology Center at MIT. His team at the Voigt Lab develop new methods that explore the boundaries of genetic engineering.

By creating genetic circuits for living cells, Voigt and his team can program the cells to do a variety of functions. This technology has applications across industries — from developing self-fertilizing cereal crops to creating metallic nanomaterials. One of his research projects on eliminating carbon emissions from agriculture and developing resilient crops the face of climate stresses was named one of the five flagship projects in the first-ever Climate Grand Challenges competition.

Voigt succeeds Angela Belcher, who has led the Department of Biological Engineering since July 2019.

“Professor Belcher’s strong, dedicated, and compassionate leadership over the past four years has been extraordinary. As only the second head of the Department of Biological Engineering, her strategic vision enabled the department to grow and thrive,” Chandrakasan says.

Voigt’s substantial research contributions have been recognized with many awards and honors. He has been named a Vannevar Bush Faculty Fellow (Office of the U.S. Secretary of Defense), Sloan Fellow, Packard Fellow, Pew Fellow, and Schmidt Innovation Fellow.

Voigt is also an active member of the wider synthetic biology community. He was the founding editor-in-chief of ACS Synthetic Biology, was a founding member of the Synthetic Biology Engineering Research Center (now the Engineering Biology Research Center), and co-founded the Synthetic Biology: Engineering Evolution and Design (SEED) Conference Series.

Throughout his career, Voigt has fostered strong connections with industry. He has served on the advisory board of 15 companies and co-founded two companies, Asimov Inc., which offers tools to program living cells for a variety of purposes, and Pivot Biotechnologies, which produces fertilizer with nitrogen-producing microbes.

Voigt received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor and his PhD at Caltech. He completed a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of California at Berkeley before joining the faculty of the University of California at San Francisco in 2003. In 2011, he joined the faculty of MIT’s Department of Biological Engineering as an associate professor.

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