Chemical engineering's Ying Li earns national award for bioseparations research


UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – Ying Li, a doctoral candidate in chemical engineering at Penn State, was recently named the recipient of MilliporeSigma’s Life Science Award in Bioseparations.

The award recognizes students from U.S. or Canadian universities who are working on cutting-edge bioseparations research, and who show potential to be future leaders in the field.

Li was recognized for her research on novel strategies to control membrane fouling and enhance performance during ultrafiltration of plasmid DNA. She received the top prize of $10,000.

“Ying is very well deserving of this recognition, both for her past accomplishments and her future potential for significant contributions to membrane science and bioprocessing,’ said Andrew Zydney, distinguished professor of chemical engineering and Li’s doctoral adviser.

Li’s thesis research is focused on the development of membrane systems for the purification of plasmid DNA, both for use in gene therapy applications and DNA-based vaccines. Her most recent work involves the use of pre-conditioning to improve the selectivity and reduce fouling during plasmid ultrafiltration.

“Ying came up with the idea to pre-elongate the DNA by passing the plasmid through a filter with large pore size immediately before ultrafiltration,” said Zydney. “This pre-conditioning pre-stretches the plasmid, allowing it to pass more easily through very narrow pores in the ultrafiltration membrane without getting stuck at the pore entrance, which is a leading cause of membrane fouling.”

Li is currently developing a more fundamental understanding of this pre-conditioning effect.

This is not the first time she has been recognized for her work in bioseparations. In fall 2015, Li received the American Institute of Chemical Engineers Separations Division Graduate Student Research Award. She and Zydney have co-authored five papers on the topic.

Li said competing for MilliporeSigma’s award, which involved visiting the company’s Billerica, Massachusetts, location to meet three other finalists and present her ideas, made her aware of similar bioseparations research in industry.

“That was very insightful because I ultimately want to pursue a career as a researcher in the bioprocessing field,” said Li.

“MilliporeSigma recognizes that the academic community is the foundation and future of life science,” said Udit Batra, member of the executive board of Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany, and CEO of MilliporeSigma, in a press release. “It is our goal to support and reward upcoming leaders of our industry and establish opportunities to connect and collaborate, so that together we can develop impactful advancements in bioseparations research.”


Share this story:

facebook linked in twitter email


Stefanie Tomlinson

ying li

Ying Li, a Ph.D. candidate in chemical engineering at Penn State, received MilliporeSigma’s Life Science Award in Bioseparations. Image: Penn State



The Penn State Department of Chemical Engineering, established in 1948, is recognized as one of the largest and most influential chemical engineering departments in the nation.

The department is built upon the fundamentals of academic integrity, innovation in research, and commitment to the advancement of industry.

Department of Chemical Engineering

119 Greenberg Complex

The Pennsylvania State University

University Park, PA 16802-4400

Phone: 814-865-2574