Vikram Yadav - From Manufacturing Vaccines To Treating Mine Waste

With his interdisciplinary research spanning applications from novel processes for manufacturing vaccines to treating toxic mining waste, Dr. Vikram Yadav is proof that “engineering is one of the few disciplines where you can dream things up that don’t exist – and then make them and change the world.”

Vikram Yadav

Education: BASc (University of Waterloo), PhD (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) 

What led you to chemical engineering? 

I come from a family of engineers. Both my parents studied chemical engineering: my dad was as a professor and then university president and my mother is an entrepreneur in the pharmaceutical industry. My childhood dinner conversations ranged from the latest industry developments to monetary policy and everything in between. I just loved how my parents approached the world, and how they talked about the process of having an idea, bringing that idea to reality and then being able to positively impact so many lives as a result. 

I remember my mother saying to me that engineering is one of the few disciplines where you can dream things up that don’t exist – and then make them and change the world.

Chemical engineering  


Why did you decide to keep going in research?

In one of my undergraduate co-op terms, I worked in the bioprocess division at Sanofi. It was exciting work and I was exposed to many concepts and ideas that aren’t typically introduced to students until you are in graduate school. My co-op supervisor saw how much I liked solving problems where there is an element of the unknown and he suggested I consider a career in research. 

Doing a PhD is where you learn how to think in new ways about innovation and open-ended problem solving.


Tell us about your research.

I am involved in many different research initiatives, with two significant areas of focus being pandemic preparedness and climate change. 

Both of these represent major challenges facing our world, and they are both quintessential chemical engineering problems. 

On the vaccine side, I’ve continued my longstanding collaboration with Sanofi that dates back to my undergraduate days. I am working with them to develop processing technologies that will bring down the cost of vaccine manufacturing and reduce vaccine inequity. Vaccine manufacturing requires infrastructure that is not widely available – and that has major implications for public health. My research is looking at how we can build plants in low-resource regions to better serve local populations. 

In the climate space, I am developing and commercializing technologies that can be used by industry to achieve sustainability goals. Through my first company, Metabolik, we developed a biotechnology based on an engineered bacterial strain to treat the highly toxic wastewater generated by oil sands operations and that is currently held in tailings ponds. We commercialized this technology and the company was eventually acquired by an American waste remediation venture called Allonnia

Through my second company, Tersa Earth Innovations, I developed a process for treating mine waste while also recovering valuable metals, like copper and lithium. Tersa recently won the BHP Global Water Challenge – which shows you the quality of the work being done by the many UBC Engineering students involved in my lab. They are the true engines behind the innovation. 


Tersa Earth Innovations 

BHP Global Water Challenge

BioFoundry at UBC


What undergraduate courses do you teach?

I teach two of the largest courses in the Chemical and Biological Engineering and Biomedical Engineering programs. Many undergraduate students also work as researchers in my lab either as volunteers or in work-learn positions or co-op.

Students in my lab embark on a learning process where they watch, soak up information, connect with graduate students in my lab and – when the time comes – they are ready to shine, and they shine very brightly. 

UBC undergraduate students are exceptional in their ability to solve some of these big challenging problems and I’m proud that many of the students I’ve worked with have gone on to graduate school or are embarking on an entrepreneurial path. 

Chemical and Biological Engineering  

Biomedical Engineering programs

Work-learn positions  Co-op

What skills do you help students develop?

There are common skills developed across every single engineering lab. 

The first is to build technical and research skills – developing specialized analytical abilities, learning how to sift through complex information to identify what is important, and designing experiments. This is a key skill set you will get in any engineering research lab.

But as engineers we aren’t just doing research for the sake of research. I spend a lot of time asking my undergraduate and graduate students to think about the big picture and to identify what the most important problem is that they are trying to solve. Are you saving lives, cutting costs, helping future generations live a better life? Knowing the problem you are solving and the impact you want to have enables you to design your experiment appropriately. This is a process that adds value to both engineering research and to any decision you need to make in life! 


Why should students choose UBC?

UBC’s community of faculty and students have always been at the forefront of research and application in the areas of climate, sustainability and health care. When you come to UBC you are surrounded by like-minded energetic and highly motivated people who want to find new and better ways to use their knowledge. I also think UBC has a very strong reputation for its many engineering design teams. These offer incredible opportunities for students to work on open-ended problems, learn from their peers, come up with innovative solutions and participate in global competitions. 

Engineering design teams

Anything else you want to share?

Fundamentally, engineers are optimists. We look at the way things are and are curious about how we can improve them by tweaking what’s there or building something completely new. 

There are so many opportunities in engineering if you like collaborating with others to solve challenges. 

Watch Vikram Yadav speak at UBC Engineering Open House

Student in a lab holding a mini Erlenmeyer flask.

Chemical and Biological Engineering

Chemical and biological engineers will be equipped to excel in a number of fast-growing and highly paid fields, including biotechnology, food, environmental services, bioenergy, forestry, biopharmaceuticals, health care and biomedical engineering.

Chemical and Biological Engineering

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