Yuan named chair of Energy, Environmental & Chemical Engineering

Joshua Yuan to join McKelvey School of Engineering at Washington University in St. Louis

Beth Miller 
Photo credit: Ron Klein
Photo credit: Ron Klein

Joshua S. Yuan, professor and chair for synthetic biology and renewable products at Texas A&M University, has been named chair of the Department of Energy, Environmental & Chemical Engineering at McKelvey School of Engineering at Washington University in St. Louis. He will join the faculty this May. 

He succeeds Katharine Flores, professor of mechanical engineering & materials science and director of the university’s Institute of Materials Science & Engineering (IMSE), who has been interim chair since Nov. 1, 2020.

Since 2018, Yuan has been a professor in the departments of Plant Pathology and Microbiology and of Chemical Engineering as well as in the Program of BioEnvironmental Sciences at Texas A&M University. In addition, he has been director of the Synthetic and Systems Biology Innovation Hub since 2015. To date, he has been awarded more than $22 million in funding as a principal investigator or as co-investigator from the Department of Energy, the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation and others. He teaches Biotechnology for Biofuels and Bioproducts as well as Genome Informatics.

His most recent work, published in Nature Communications, used artificial intelligence to set a new world record for producing algae as a reliable, economic source for biofuel that can be used as an alternative fuel source for jet aircraft and other transportation needs. His research addresses broader challenges in energy and environmental sustainability. He also focuses on designing biorefinery and biomaterial from biomass as well as innovative technologies for environmental remediation, carbon capture and utilization.

In addition to his academic research, Yuan also is an entrepreneur, serving as chief scientific adviser and co-founder of SynShark LLC, which produces and supplies high-quality terpene oils, such as tobacco-derived squalene, to be used as an adjuvant for vaccines or an emollient for cosmetics.

“We are thrilled to welcome Joshua Yuan to McKelvey Engineering and WashU,” said Aaron F. Bobick, dean and the James M. McKelvey Professor. “His experience in synthetic biology, renewable products and entrepreneurship is an excellent fit for the strong core in those areas in the Department of Energy, Environmental & Chemical Engineering, and his presence elevates those areas of the department. In addition, Joshua has conveyed a strong commitment to growing all aspects of the department, and I look forward to his consensus-driven leadership.”

Bobick added, “I also want to extend my deepest gratitude to Kathy Flores for stepping in so spectacularly well in the role of interim chair.”

Yuan joined the faculty at Texas A&M in 2008. Previously, he was a Sungrant Fellow for biomass processing at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colorado. He was a genomics scientist in the Department of Plant Sciences and director of the Institute of Agriculture Genomics Hub at the University of Tennessee; the microarray core manager at Ernest Gallo Clinic and Research Center at the University of California, San Francisco; and a senior research associate at BASF Plant Sciences in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina.

Yuan has been awarded three US patents and has two pending. He has written more than 100 peer-reviewed journal articles, published in Nature Communications, Green Chemistry, Advanced Sciences, ACS Sustainable Chemistry and Engineering, ChemSusChem, and Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences USA, among others. 

Yuan has won numerous awards and honors, including the Regional Solid Waste Planning Award and the Environmental Educator Award in 2018; the Excellence in Innovation Award from Texas A&M University System in 2017; and Gamma Sigma Delta Outstanding Graduate Student Award in 2007, among others. He serves on a review panel for the Department of Energy’s ARPAe program and has served on numerous other review panels over the past several years. 

Yuan earned a doctorate in functional genomics (plants, insects and soils) with a minor in statistics from the University of Tennessee; a master’s degree in plant sciences from the University of Arizona; and a bachelor’s degree in biology from Fudan University in Shanghai, China.



The McKelvey School of Engineering at Washington University in St. Louis promotes independent inquiry and education with an emphasis on scientific excellence, innovation and collaboration without boundaries. McKelvey Engineering has top-ranked research and graduate programs across departments, particularly in biomedical engineering, environmental engineering and computing, and has one of the most selective undergraduate programs in the country. With 165 full-time faculty, 1,420 undergraduate students, 1,614 graduate students and 21,000 living alumni, we are working to solve some of society’s greatest challenges; to prepare students to become leaders and innovate throughout their careers; and to be a catalyst of economic development for the St. Louis region and beyond.

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