Frances Arnold, Linus Pauling Professor of Chemical Engineering, Bioengineering and Biochemistry, has been named to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, a scientific academy under the auspices of the pope and based in Vatican City.
The academy was established in 1936 by Pope Pius XI with the goal of promoting "the progress of the mathematical, physical, and natural sciences." It is the latest incarnation of papal scientific academies that date back to 1603. As a member of the academy, Arnold will be able to attend academy meetings and participate in study groups focused on scientific issues.
In 2018, Arnold earned a Nobel Prize in Chemistry for her work in pioneering directed evolution, a technique for tailoring enzymes for industrial processes like the manufacture of fuels, pharmaceuticals, and agricultural chemicals.
Arnold and her colleagues have used directed evolution to persuade bacteria to make chemicals not found in nature, including molecules containing silicon-carbon or boron-carbon bonds, or bicyclobutanes, which contain energy-packed carbon rings. By using bacteria, researchers can potentially make these chemical compounds in "greener" ways that are more economical and produce less toxic waste.
Recently, Arnold was recognized with the Bower Award and Prize for Achievement in Science. She received the Millennium Technology Prize in 2016 and was awarded the National Medal of Technology and Innovation in 2013. She was the first woman elected to all three branches of the National Academies—the National Academy of Engineering (2000), the National Academy of Medicine (2004; it was then called the Institute of Medicine), and the National Academy of Sciences (NAS; 2008). In 2018, she was elected to the American Philosophical Society.
Arnold is the third Caltech faculty member to be admitted to the academy. The late Ahmed Zewail, the Linus Pauling Professor of Chemistry and professor of physics who died in 2016, was admitted to the academy in 1999. David Baltimore, president emeritus and Robert Andrews Millikan Professor of Biology, was admitted in 1978.