International Women in Engineering Day is an annual celebration of the outstanding contributions of women engineers. The theme of this year’s Women in Engineering Day is “Engineering Heroes,” so we reached out to hear the stories of just a few of our Cyclone Engineering heroes, who are innovating in their research and inspiring and educating the next generation of women engineers.

Today (and every day) we celebrate women Cyclone Engineers, like Zengyi Shao, who started as an assistant professor in 2013 and became an associate professor for chemical and biological engineering in 2019; Shao is working for The Center for Biorenewable Chemicals previously sponsored by NSF and The DOE Center for Advanced Bioenergy and Bioproducts Innovation. Her engineering hero is Frances Arnold, awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2018 for her pioneer work for applying directed evolution to engineer enzymes.


How she inspires future women engineers: Shao has done many activities to foster a passion for engineering and science in young people in her time at Iowa State. For example, she has worked at the EPSCoR Ames Summer Enrichment Program, showing elementary-aged children, many in minority populations and low-income families, how to appreciate STEM fields through hands-on interactive experiments. Shao focused on keeping science fun and fresh for the younger generation.


Her engineering superpower: is “introducing state-of-the-art technologies related to modern bioengineering techniques such as microbial factory design, genome editing, and synthetic ecosystem creation” to her students and research groups. Shao’s long-term goal in her research is to elucidate the functions and interactions of the genes of high-performing microbial species with unique biochemical, metabolic, and physiological features and advance them as microbial cell factories to produce bioproducts or models for studying human diseases and disorders.


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