University of Minnesota
BioTechnology Institute
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    BioTechnology Institute
    University of Minnesota
    140 Gortner Labs
    1479 Gortner Avenue
    St. Paul, MN 55108-6106

    612-625-5780 FAX

BTI History

1983-84   1985-86   1987-88   1989-90   1991-92   1993-94  
1995-96   1997-99   2000-01   2002-03   2004-05   2006-09

Ken Valentas

Valentas Strengthens Industry Connections as Director

Ken Valentas received his PhD in Chemical Engineering at the University of Minnesota under Prof. Neal R. Amundson. He spent a total of 24 years working in industry at Sinclair Oil, General Mills, and Pillsbury before coming to the Institute. A capable administrator with good interpersonal skills, he had risen to the level of Sr. Vice President of Engineering with the Pillsbury Co. before retiring and returning to the University.

A good listener, Valentas became particularly adept at negotiating complex issues involving intellectual property and industry relations.

In industry, Valentas had engineered improved and innovative methods of food processing. As an educator, he taught the principles of food process engineering and scale-up operations. In an institute promoting industrial-academic cooperation, Valentas brought to the directorship an ability to interpret positions on both sides, find common ground and move forward. In his 15 years as director, the institute's faculty base grew from 5 to 15 members to achieve critical mass in the areas of biocatalysis and microbial physiology.

International Collaboration

NAIST Biotechnology is a global enterprise. In 1996, BTI established a formal exchange program with the Nara Institute of Science and Technology (NAIST) in Japan. The program grew out of informal connections that BPTI faculty had with NAIST and was crystalized and nurtured by director Ken Valentas.

Each year, 3 to 4 students from BPTI and NAIST participate in an exchange visit. The students are assigned to a specific laboratory, based on their research interests, with the intent of learning new skills and techniques. Students from the host laboratory also became cultural mentors for the visitors. Lasting professional and personal bonds are forged in the process.

Collaborative symposia were subsequently organized around research themes being pursued by both institutions.


  • Dr. Kenneth J. Valentas named permanent director.

  • NIGMS graduate training grant renewed and expanded.

  • First U of M Biorefinery Conference.

  • Mathematical Modeling in Biochemical Eng. Conference.

  • Exchangeprogram with Nara Institute of Science and Technology (NAIST) in Japan.