Alumni Highlight: Hunter Zeleznik

This series highlights ABPDU alumni. We interview different alumni to learn more about their career path and what makes them passionate about their work.

Hunter Zeleznik

Hunter Zeleznik joined the ABPDU in 2019 as a research associate. Now, she is a strain development fermentation research associate at LanzaTech

How did you get interested in biomanufacturing? 

I studied chemical engineering at University of California, Santa Barbara. I took a few elective courses in biotech, not really knowing what I wanted to do, but knowing I was interested in that. One of my fraternity brothers, Gregory Bontemps, was a fermentation associate engineer at the ABPDU. Greg introduced me to the ABPDU team. I learned about biotech and fermentation at the ABPDU and that’s when I discovered this is something I want to do long term. 

Tell me about your experience at ABPDU.

I did a lot of work with industry collaboration project fermentations. I got to learn everything from the small scale to 2 liters to 50 liters, all the way up to the 300 liters. It allowed me to learn a lot in a short amount of time — something I wouldn’t have been able to do anywhere else. I learned how to take samples, how to set up fermentations, and I even got some experience in downstream processing. That really helped me stand out when I applied to LanzaTech.

Being exposed to fermentations with several microbes at different scales was an immense learning opportunity. There was so much learning and it was very hands-on from the get go.

I also really enjoyed the people at ABPDU. They were all very welcoming, close-knit, and willing to teach. 

Tell me about your current work at LanzaTech.

I work on syngas fermentations, which convert gases such as carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide and hydrogen into ethanol and other commodity chemicals. On a daily basis, I’m setting up gas fermentations, analyzing data, and iterating on better strains. In my department, we receive strains that create different chemical products, screen them for the best performance, and optimize operating conditions for maximum production and stability. Then we pass the best strain on to our scale-up team to take it to commercial scale. 

What do you enjoy most about your work? 

The importance of combating climate change is the most exciting and meaningful part. Every day, we’re trying to push the world forward. Being able to be a part of that from the very beginning of the process is really exciting. For example, we often screen new microbial strains, and sometimes it’s the first test to determine whether it’s a viable microbe to operate commercially. It’s exciting to think that one day, one of my strains will end up being in a commercial plant. I like knowing that my hard work and effort contributes to really big changes, hopefully worldwide.

What are your long-term career goals? 

I would love to stay in the sustainability sector of biotech. I think it’s super important. I would like to stay with companies that work to make a difference. We go through so much schooling and I think it’s important to use our knowledge for good. 

Pictured left to right: ABPDU senior process engineer Jan-Philip Prahl, Hunter Zeleznik, and former ABPDU intern Harsimran Multani.
Pictured left to right: ABPDU senior process engineer Jan-Philip Prahl, Hunter Zeleznik, and former ABPDU intern Harsimran Multani.

How did your experience at ABPDU help advance your career? 

I can’t stress enough how special and unique ABPDU is, especially for a student just coming out of college. To be immersed in that environment and be exposed to so many different things is so valuable. If there’s a young college student out there reading this one day, and they’re trying to figure out where to apply, I don’t think there’s a better place. 

The work ABPDU does is really awesome. They’ve got a really great team of scientists and engineers, and the breadth of experience is very valuable. I’m so grateful and so proud to have worked at ABPDU.