Photo of Nancy W. Y. Ho

Nancy W. Y. Ho

  • National Medal of Technology and Innovation
  • Environment

For the development of a yeast-based technology that is able to co-ferment sugars extracted from plants to produce ethanol, and for optimizing this technology for large-scale and cost-effective production of renewable biofuels and industrial chemicals.

Nancy Ho on her greatest influences

Corn stalks and wood chips may not seem like significant scientific materials, but Nancy Ho knows better. She is, after all, using those scraps to provide automobile drivers with inexpensive, clean-burning fuel.

Ho, a research professor emerita at Purdue University’s School of Chemical Engineering, has found a way to modify the genes of a particular type of yeast so that the tiny organism can convert more of the sugars found in plant matter into ethanol.

The engineered yeast, aptly named “Ho-Purdue” yeast, produces at least 30 percent more ethanol from plant materials than conventional yeasts, and it doesn’t require any special nutrients or conditions to thrive, making it more cost effective.

In 2006, Ho began widely producing and marketing the yeast through Green Tech America, Inc., which she founded at the Purdue Research Park. The company strives to produce clean biofuels and green chemicals from renewable resources, while reducing the nation’s dependency on foreign oil, advancing economic growth and protecting the environment.

By Sydni Dunn