Faculty Spotlight

Charles Cooney

Faculty Profile: Dr. Charles L. Cooney
Robert T. Haslam (1911) Professor of Chemical Engineering

MIT Professional Education Short Programs course: Downstream Processing

When Charles Cooney studied biochemical engineering in the 1960s, the field was in its infancy. He first taught in a joint MIT program that involved chemical engineering, biology, and the Department of Nutrition and Food Science; his research involved antibiotic fermentation and food ingredients like amino acids and vitamins. The same year, 1970, he began teaching this new discipline in Professional Education short programs to industry practitioners. From the earliest days, Cooney combined his academic interests and his commitment to solving industry problems.

“Looking back, it was very exciting to be part of those early days—how do you do the research, what needs to be done, and how to educate students?” Cooney says. “Jumping to Professional Education, I along with [Institute Professor] Dan Wang began teaching Fermentation Technology in Professional Education in 1970. When we got into early advances of biotechnology in the 1980s, it became a course that gave industry people the first principles of biotechnology. Shortly after that, now 25 years ago, I started the Downstream Processing course that would complement the fermentation course. It was directly in response to a need to train and educate people in industry about the first principles in manufacturing biological products.”

Cooney says today’s Professional Education students tend to arrive with more biology training as well as chemical engineering and companies often see such courses as part of continuous improvement training. The faculty learn as well, he says. We learn by questions we get, discussions in class, and conversations in the hallway. All of this relates to the content that you are going present in the classroom. I always say it keeps me honest in terms of what I present and how I describe it. I’m trying to address real solution to real problems.”

With the advent of recombinant DNA techniques in the 1970s, Cooney quickly joined the effort to translate biotechnology discoveries into new manufacturing processes and products working primarily in the pharmaceutical industry.

His research involves the fundamentals of absorption and filtration in downstream processing, the use of genetic engineering to solve process problems, and the application of benchmarking to measure performance in pharmaceutical manufacturing.

In the Department of Chemical Engineering, Cooney teaches courses in biochemical engineering with a focus on separation processes and drug development. He has taught in Professional Education courses since 1970, originally in Institute Prof. Daniel Wang’s course on Fermentation Technology. He is celebrating the 25th year of teaching the related course, Downstream Processing, which continues to be a rapidly evolving field.

Over the years, Cooney has worked on problems involving biofuels, single-cell protein, recombinant proteins, and small molecule drugs. The Cooney Lab has addressed a range of questions about scaling up cultures to industry scale. Lab results include software that precisely controls biochemical processes and a real-time, non-invasive technique to monitor power-mixing.

About Professor Cooney

Research Interests:
Manufacturing strategy in the pharmaceutical, biotech and biofuels industries; bioprocess design, operation, and control; and processing of pharmaceutical powders.

MIT Service:

  • Teaching since 1970
  • Executive officer, Department of Chemical Engineering, 1995-2001
  • Faculty director, Deshpande Center for Technological Innovation
  • Faculty participant in programs including Novartis-MIT Center for Continuous Manufacturing, MIT-Portugal Program, Program on the Pharmaceutical Industry at MIT, Legatum Center for Development & Entrepreneurship, and more.


PhD, MIT, Biochemical Engineering, 1970
SM, MIT, Biochemical Engineering, 1967
BS, University of Pennsylvania, Biochemical Engineering, 1966

Prof. CooneyProf. Cooney

Cooney has published more than 300 research papers, over 30 patents, and co-authored or edited five books including, most recently, Development of Sustainable Bioprocesses: Modeling and Assessment. He is on the board of directors of Genzyme and CUNO, Inc. and serves as a consultant to a number of biotech and pharmaceutical companies, from startups to global corporations.

His honors include the 1989 Gold Medal of the Institute of Biotechnological Studies (London); the Food, Pharmaceutical, and Bioengineering Award from the American Institute of Chemical Engineers; and the James Van Lanen Distinguished Service Award from the American Chemical Society's Division of Microbial and Biochemical Technology. On several boards of professional journals, Cooney has been elected to the American Institute of Medical and Biochemical Engineers.

Personal Interests:

Boston Ballet trustee, Boston Symphony Orchestra overseer.

Activities: rock climbing; skiing; high-altitude mountaineering with assents of Denali, Ama Dablam, Mont Blanc, Kilimanjaro, Huascaran; scuba diving; and antique map collecting.

MIT Affiliations:
Cooney Lab

Main MIT Profile

Faculty Director of Deshpande Center

The Legatum Center for Development and Entrepreneurship - Co-director of the Program on the Pharmaceutical Industry


Genzyme Board of Directors

MIT Professional Education - Short Programs Courses:

MIT World Videos:

Cooney VIdeo page on MIT World: http://mitworld.mit.edu/speaker/view/456

MIT World video moderated by Professor Cooney: Innovation in Manufacturing and Distribution Systems (Part Three)