Separations Expert Named William Weightman Walker Professor at Rensselaer

October 29, 2007

Separations Expert Named William Weightman Walker Professor at Rensselaer

Troy, N.Y. — Chemical and biological engineering professor Steven Cramer was recently appointed as the William Weightman Walker Professor of Polymer Engineering at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. The endowed professorship, one of the two oldest such named professorships at Rensselaer, is the highest honor bestowed on a faculty member. 

“With his research and insight, Professor Cramer continues to raise the bar for Rensselaer faculty and their students,” said Alan Cramb, dean of Rensselaer’s School of Engineering. “Steve has a bright future in his new chaired professorship in the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering, and I thank him for his hard work and dedication.”

Cramer, who served as acting head of Rensselaer’s Isermann Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering from November 2004 to August 2006, is widely regarded as a worldwide leader in chromatographic bioprocessing and an expert in separations in general.

Along with being honored by the National Science Foundation and winning several teaching awards, Cramer is the inaugural recipient of the Alan S. Michaels Award for the Recovery of Biological Products, the editor of the journal Separation Science and Technology, and a fellow of the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering.

But he considers his work with doctoral and graduate students as his most significant accomplishment.

“My former students are major players in the bioprocessing industry in this country,” Cramer said. “They are doing great work, enabling companies to come up with more efficient processes and helping to advance the entire industry. That is what I’m most proud of.”

Cramer received his undergraduate degree from Brown University, and went on to earn his master’s degree and doctorate in chemical engineering at Yale University. He joined the Rensselaer faculty as an assistant professor in 1986 and in 1990 was named the Isermann Associate Professor of Chemical Engineering. He became a full professor in 1995.

In the early 1980s, Cramer recognized the potential of the biotech industry and decided to play a role in the emerging field. He traces this interest to his father’s multiple sclerosis. Watching his father suffer, Cramer said, “I knew I wanted to work in medical-related research.”

“I saw that there would be a tremendous need for people trained in bioseparations, so I chose that as the topic for my thesis,” he said.

Cramer’s research focuses on using chromatography and developing new technology to separate and purify biological compounds. The resulting discoveries have led not only to a deeper understanding of chromatography but also to the development of tools that improve the separation process and, ultimately, may make new medications possible by finding ways to separate substances that previously could not be isolated.

Before a drug can be injected into the body, it must be extremely pure — a process that typically requires many separations, each of which is expensive.

“If we can make the process more efficient and more economical, we can make drugs more affordable,” Cramer said. 

He and his collaborators are responsible for a major shift in the field of displacement chromatography and the way that proteins are purified. Their work has resulted in at least four patents that have been commercialized and are now being used in the biotech industry.

Along with his post in the Isermann Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering, Cramer is a member of the Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies. He said the interdisciplinary interaction afforded by the center has played a major role in his research program.

“My approach to research is to try to be as creative as possible,” he adds. “The way to do that is to collaborate with others at the intersection of different fields. The CBIS provides my research group with an unparalleled opportunity for carry out cutting-edge multidisciplinary biotechnology related research.”

Contact: Michael Mullaney
Phone: (518) 276-6161


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