News Release

Renewable Plastics, Poster Initiative and E. coli: UCSD Bioengineering Grad Student Wins Leadership Award

San Diego, CA, November 09, 2007 -- The plastic containers Adam Feist uses to carry his lunch to his UC San Diego lab are petroleum based. This may change. Feist – a bioengineering Ph.D. candidate at UCSD – is doing fundamental research that could lead to more efficient ways to churn out renewable biopolymers for “green plastics” using microorganisms as factories. Within the bioengineering department at UCSD’s Jacobs School of Engineering, Feist is a natural leader, a dedicated team player and a top-notch metabolic engineer. This combination of leadership, service and scholarship has earned him the 2007 Woolley Leadership Award.

Adam Feist at Woolley Reception
Adam Feist (blue shirt and tie) at the Nov 15 reception for the 2007 Woolley Leadership Award. Listen to Adam tell you how a summer job making rubber in Nebraska led him to bioengineering.

In particular, Feist tinkers with the metabolisms of strains of E. coli. He is studying how the genomes of microorganism can be systematically modified in order to make them highly efficient factories for the production of all sorts of useful things, including amino acids, ethanol, biopolymers and a wide range of “platform chemicals” that can be used to make many commercially valuable chemicals and products.


Adam Feist Woolley Award Winner 2007
Adam Feist is the recipient of the 2007 Woolley Leadership Award. Listen to Adam tell you how a summer job making rubber in Nebraska led him to bioengineering.

“In addition to his leadership activities, Adam’s research accomplishments are outstanding. Adam led a multi-institution effort with four groups worldwide and effectively produced an outstanding end product and a great paper in the Nature Journal - Molecular Systems Biology,” said Bernhard Palsson, who is Feist’s thesis advisor and a bioengineering professor at UCSD.

Up to this point, Adam has published three peer-reviewed publications. He was the primary author on two and all have been in very respectable Nature Group journals. He has two more publications in the review process and more in the pipeline before his expected graduation early next fall.

Buzz Woolley at the 2007 Woolley Leadership Award Reception
Buzz Woolley spoke at the Nov. 14, 2007 reception for the Jacobs School leadership award that he created. Woolley underscored how important it is for individuals from the fields of engineering and science to lead at the community level. "Leadership within communities should not be left to just the social science students and the lawyers," he said.

But there is much more to Adam’s academic contributions than his publication record. Stroll the hallways of UCSD’s Powell-Focht Bioengineering Hall, and you can see the fruits of his leadership. The hallways are lined with bioengineering research posters protected by shiny new display cases.

“Students spend years doing the research and making posters for conferences. When the conferences are over, the posters often get rolled up and put in a pile – never to be seen again. When I got to UCSD, there were some bioengineering posters up on the walls, but half of them were falling off and they were not given justice,” said Feist.

As the president of the Bioengineering Graduate Students Group (BEGS), Feist led an effort to install poster displays in the new bioengineering building.

“I wanted to make sure our research gets put on display. Visitors look at the posters all the time. Now that we have about 30 posters on the walls of our building, I can say with confidence that our research is reaching a broader audience,” said Feist.

The bioengineering graduate students are offering naming opportunities for each of the poster holders. They have sold four so far and are looking to sell more.

“Putting your name – or your company’s name – on one of our poster display cases is a great way for bioengineering alumni from UCSD to give back to their home department,” said Feist. All money raised from the sponsorship of poster holders is used to sponsor the events that their student group organizes and runs each year.

“For local companies, getting your name on a poster display is a great way to make a permanent connection with bioengineers at UCSD,” said Feist.

As the president of BEGS for the last three years, Feist has had the opportunity to interact with the faculty, alumni and other student organizations on campus.

“Serving as the president of the Bioengineering Graduate Students group, Adam has displayed a singular motivation to improve the graduate experience for himself and his classmates,” said Andrew McCulloch, professor and chair, Department of Bioengineering, UCSD Jacobs School of Engineering.

“He has not only done a great deal of work himself to make the poster initiative a success, but he has also rallied the graduate student body to actively participate as well,” said McCulloch.

Feist has also improved the BEGS annual Bioengineering Research Symposium that allows graduate students in the department to present their research and is in its 23rd year. He spearheaded an effort to involve alumni more in this and other bioengineering events at UCSD.

Outside of the bioengineering world, Feist spent a year as a mentor for a 7th grader at The Preuss School, a charter middle and high school dedicated to providing a rigorous college prep education for motivated low-income students who will become the first in their families to graduate from college.

“I am always looking for new challenges. And at the same time, I get a lot of pleasure from improving things, making things better than how I found them. If you have the drive and interest to make things better and to make them your own at the same time, the possibilities are endless,” said Feist.


Media Contacts

Daniel Kane
Jacobs School of Engineering