2021 Fellows

Dr. Ellie Armstrong, Washington State University School of Biological Sciences
Dr. Molly Carney, Washington State University Department of Anthropology
Dr. Braxton Jamison, Benaroya Research Institute at Virginia Mason
Dr. Korena Mafune, University of Washington Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering
Dr. Julia McKechnie, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center Vaccine and Infectious Disease Division
Dr. Zachary Nicolaou, University of Washington Department of Applied Mathematics
Dr. Sam Pellock, University of Washington Department of Biochemistry
Dr. Eric Szelenyi, University of Washington Department of Biological Structure
Dr. Andrew Weitz, Western Washington University Department of Environmental Sciences
Dr. Angela Yu, University of Washington Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering


 

Dr. Molly Carney

Washington State University Department of Anthropology

What would you like people to know about you?
Archaeology ≠ Indiana Jones or dinosaurs! As an archaeologist specializing in botany and pedology, I spend much more time in the lab staring into a microscope than I do in the field. Rather than artifacts, I work primarily with charred plant remains and soil samples. But that’s all right, because we can answer very important questions about how humans engaged with and altered plants and landscapes in the past. In my free time, however, you can usually find me outside, either hiking, gardening, or skiing.

How do you describe your research to colleagues?
My research focuses on camas (Camassia spp.), an edible bulb common throughout the Northwest. My doctoral thesis identified that this plant was managed or stewarded by Native peoples over the past 4,000 years through distinct selective harvesting practices; but that despite significant human input to the lifecycles of these plants, we have no phenotypic evidence that camas was domesticated. My postdoctoral research program seeks to expand these findings. Specifically, my collaborators and I are working on understanding three things about Northwest peoples diets in the past: what were people eating in conjunction with camas, further expanding on how they were manipulating, managing, or stewarding past camas communities and ecosystems, and how past climate changed affected those management practices. For the fellowship I will model how paleoclimatic trends may have expanded or contracted past camas niches, which can then be compared with archaeological data on camas management. Our ultimate goal is to collaborate with tribal nations and state and federal agencies to create informed management plans for camas that account for millennia of human input as well as future global warming and aridification. We further envision extrapolating these workflows to other cultural keystone plant foods in the future.

How do you describe your research to non-scientists?
In archaeology, we try to give voice to past people through limited evidence. It was not until working on my masters, however, that I realized archaeology could do more than just tell stories of the past; indeed, we can use archaeological evidence to support and expand livelihoods, quality of life, and even influence policy decisions for contemporary descendent communities. My research looks at the plant foods of past Northwest peoples. Specifically, we are working on elucidating the ways people managed or otherwise cared for, prepared, and consumed plant foods over the last 8,000 years. My colleagues and I have plans to use this information to establish and expand native plant food habitats for contemporary harvests and increase access for Northwest Native communities. This work is important as many Native American and First Nation communities are interested in returning to their traditional diets to support overall community health and rekindle connections to their cultural heritage.

What public benefit do you hope will come from your work?
For many Native people within Washington State and throughout North America, traditional foodways have long been disrupted and replaced by modern food systems, which displace and separate consumers from their food sources. The loss of those food sources and associated land tenure systems have had harmful effects on their food security and overall health. In response, many tribal communities are now seeking food sovereignty as a means of restoring control over food choices and community health. My collaborators and I plan on implementing the results of our work at restoration sites throughout the region as a means of expanding native plant food niches. By providing access and additional insights into traditional foods and food preparation, we hope to have a positive impact on the overall health and wellbeing of many tribal communities throughout the Northwest.

What difference has the Washington Research Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship made to your work?
When working with descendent and Indigenous communities, it is vitally important to work with people and to invest time in establishing and maintaining relationships. This fellowship grants the time and resources to fully commit to this food sovereignty project. Academia has a long history of taking from Native communities rather than giving back, and I am fully committed to breaking that tradition and conducting research to support the people who have lived in this region since time immemorial. I am also excited about the potential of meeting and networking with other WRF associated scientists; as a lifelong learner, I’m looking forward to expanding my own horizons through the work of others.

Dr. Braxton Jamison

Dr. Braxton Jamison

Benaroya Research Institute at Virginia Mason

What would you like people to know about you?
I received my Ph.D. in Immunology at the University of Colorado, where I worked on testing antigen-specific immunotherapies in preclinical models. One of my main research interests is in immunological tolerance with the goal of understanding how to modulate T cell responses to improve human health. As someone who has benefited from training programs for underrepresented minorities, I am excited about opportunities to get individuals from disadvantaged backgrounds involved in biomedical research. In my free time, I enjoy outdoor activities, concerts, and seeking good local food.

How do you describe your research to colleagues?
Regulatory T cells (Tregs) are essential for maintaining homeostasis in the immune system. Mice and humans that lack Tregs due to mutations in the gene encoding Foxp3, the master transcription factor of the Treg lineage, develop systemic and fatal autoimmunity. In addition to the expression of Foxp3, Tregs express high levels of the interleukin-2 (IL-2) receptor α-chain and are dependent on IL-2. The advancement of adoptive Treg cellular therapies or biologicals that boost Tregs is of significant interest for autoimmunity, transplantation, and allergy. Our group developed an IL-2 mutein that specifically expands Tregs leading to protection in a mouse model of Type 1 Diabetes. My postdoc work focuses on investigating the role of T cell receptor (TCR) self-reactivity in influencing the Treg response to IL-2 mutein and how peripheral Treg induction affects the activation of antigen-presenting cells and effector T cells. To address these questions, I am utilizing markers that correlate with TCR signal strength, high-dimensional flow cytometry to characterize induced Tregs, in addition to sequencing-based approaches to profile other immune populations after IL-2 mutein treatment.

How do you describe your research to non-scientists?
Autoimmunity is often the result of the abnormal activation of a type of immune cell called T cells. This is due to a break in immune tolerance, which is the ability of the immune system to distinguish between normal proteins expressed in healthy tissues (self) and foreign proteins such as those derived from pathogens (non-self). Currently, most treatments for autoimmunity result in broad immunosuppression and do not address the underlying causes of disease. My research interests lie in investigating how immune tolerance is established, why it fails, and in developing therapies to promote tolerance.

What public benefit do you hope will come from your work?
Autoimmune disorders are thought to affect as many as 50 million people in the United States and their incidence is steadily increasing. While our understanding of the mechanisms driving autoimmune responses has substantially increased in the last few decades better treatments are needed. Strategies that aim to restore the Treg to effector T cell balance hold great promise in this regard. The proposed studies with IL-2 mutein will advance our understanding of how this therapy works and address fundamental questions in Treg biology.

What difference has the Washington Research Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship made to your work?
The fellowship from WRF has provided me with the freedom to pursue my own research interests and ideas, which I think is the foundation for a successful postdoctoral training experience. I believe that the opportunities provided by WRF will allow me to build long-lasting relationships and collaborations with colleagues.

Dr. Korena Mafune

University of Washington Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering

What would you like people to know about you?
I was born and raised outside of Seattle, and am a proud first generation academic. My undergrad focused on restoration ecology and horticulture. During this time, I became fascinated with soil and fungal ecology. There was an entire hidden half below our feet where so many amazing processes were happening, and scientists were just beginning to open this ‘black box’… but to me it was more like a treasure chest! For my Masters and PhD, I studied plant-fungal interactions in the tree canopies of Washington’s old-growth rainforests. I learned so much about climate change, nutrient cycles, fungal diversity, and organismal interactions. As the pages continued to turn, I am so excited to continue to pursue research on belowground interactions as a WRF postdoctoral fellow. On my free time, you’ll either find me hanging with my pets, partner, and family; or crawling out from the ferns and salal with a handful of foraged mushrooms.

How do you describe your research to colleagues?
My postdoctoral research seeks to understand tripartite interactions between bacteria, fungi, and plants; and how these naturally occurring interactions can be harnessed for sustainable agricultural practices. Plants evolved on land with the help of fungal partners, and over 85% of plants worldwide form mutualistic relationships with fungi. Bacteria also interact with plants, live freely in the soil, and live on and within fungal spores and hyphae. My postdoctoral research will utilize field studies, molecular techniques, chemical analysis, microscopy, bioreactor systems, and greenhouse experiments to: 1) better understand the extent of plant-fungal-bacterial interactions in natural environments; 2) find compatible fungi and bacteria that have potential to increase plant nitrogen uptake and overall plant health; and 3) test if a mix of these organisms can be used as biofertilizer to reduce the need for synthetic fertilizers in agricultural cropping systems.

How do you describe your research to non-scientists?
Fungi and bacteria are everywhere! Sometimes they get a bad reputation for causing health issues and hurting ecosystems, but so many of them are beneficial. In fact, the world we see today would likely not be here if it wasn’t for these tiny organisms. My research focuses on how these organisms interact with plants, and how those interactions can be used to benefit us and our surrounding environment. The reality is that greenhouse gases are increasing, and a very potent one is nitrous oxide. A huge source of nitrous oxide is from synthetic nitrogen fertilizer added to cropping systems. This also pollutes our water systems and disrupts the natural fungal and bacterial processes in the soil. Certain bacteria can naturally fix nitrogen from the atmosphere, and a diversity of fungi can provide nutrients to plants. My research aims to better understand these interactions and further harness these organisms to act as a natural fertilizer that will make the plants happy and healthy while decreasing the need for synthetic fertilizers.

What public benefit do you hope will come from your work?
I hope to create a novel biotechnology that won’t only benefit plant growth while decreasing the use of harmful fertilizers, but also contribute to the perspective that the organisms that have helped sustain plants for millions of years can still be used today. Utilizing microorganisms to increase plant growth and benefit plant health is nothing new, but often times it is either bacteria or fungi. My research aims to combine their benefits and create a product that can be applied to certain cropping systems, decreasing the need for fertilizers that are destroying our environments and atmosphere. People depend on crops, but they also need a planet to thrive on. My research aims to find a solution that addresses both issues because we cannot only focus on one at the expense of the other.

What difference has the Washington Research Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship made to your work?
The Washington Research Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship has provided the opportunity to pursue my scientific ideas, while allowing me the freedom to collaborate with scientists, students, and the surrounding communities. During this fellowship, I will learn new approaches, improve my current skillset, and form relationships that will benefit me well into my future as an independent scientist. Additionally, I will be conducting this research in the place I call home. I am very family oriented, and I am so honored to work with an organization that supports that.

 

 

Dr. Julia McKechnie

Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center Vaccine and Infectious Disease Division

What would you like people to know about you?
My interest in biology began at an early age playing in the woods surrounding my house in Western Washington. I pursued this interest at the University of California, Berkeley, where I earned my Bachelor of Science in Molecular Environmental Biology. After graduating from UC Berkeley, I went on to earn a PhD in Immunology from Stanford University, where I studied the innate immune response to acute dengue infection. Outside of the lab, I enjoy riding horses, hiking with my dog, exercising, reading, and traveling.

How do you describe your research to colleagues?
Epitopes on several viruses have been identified as key targets for viral neutralization, often with broad neutralizing activity across strains and serotypes. However, the endogenous B cell response rarely results in broadly neutralizing antibody (bNAb) production. While bNAb infusion is currently being tested in the clinic, the half-life of these antibodies is such that reinfusion is required to maintain protection. Consequently, the Taylor laboratory has developed a B cell engineering technology, which involves taking B cells and using CRISPR/Cas9 to introduce a double stranded break in the antibody heavy chain gene. A protective antibody construct consisting of DNA encoding a pathogen-specific antibody, is then inserted at the cut site, resulting in engineered B cells that act as a rapid, long-term source of antiviral antibodies. My goal is to expand the therapeutic range of engineered B cells. I am doing this in two ways. The first is by engineering B cells to express multiple protective antibodies against several different viruses instead of just one. The second is by engineering B cells to express both a virus-specific antibody and another, non-antibody, therapeutic protein.

How do you describe your research to non-scientists?
B cells are one of the cell subsets that make up your immune system. B cells produce proteins called antibodies, some of which bind to specific viruses and prevent them from infecting your cells. My research focuses on engineering B cells to produce antibodies that are protective against viruses for which no effective vaccines currently exist. I am also engineering B cells to produce additional, non-antibody, proteins as a potential therapy for patients with protein deficiencies.

What public benefit do you hope will come from your work?
The COVID-19 pandemic has illustrated the significant and far-ranging impacts viruses can have on infected individuals, their families, and society at large. My work will advance the field of B cell engineering and potentially provide another mechanism by which we can protect people, particularly the elderly and immunocompromised, from severe viral infections. My long-term goal is for my research to become the basis of a B cell therapy that is translated into the clinic.

What difference has the Washington Research Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship made to your work?
My Washington Research Foundation (WRF) Postdoctoral Fellowship has given me the resources to pursue research that is both impactful and ambitious. As a result of being a WRF fellow, I am developing my mentoring, management, and collaboration skills as I work with colleagues to advance my research projects. Additionally, the WRF has expanded my career development opportunities by organizing various events and providing funding to attend conferences. Overall, my WRF fellowship is an invaluable part of my postdoctoral research. I believe the experiences I gain as a WRF fellow will be an asset in future stages of my career.

 

 

 

Dr. Zachary Nicolaou

University of Washington Department of Applied Mathematics

What would you like people to know about you?
I am a physicist and applied mathematician studying dynamics and complexity in pattern-forming systems and networks. In the past, I proposed designs for novel mechanical metamaterials, uncovered surprising symmetry-breaking phenomena in condensed matter systems, and characterized complex patterns of synchrony in networks of coupled oscillators. Currently, I am focused on developing new computational algorithms and technologies leveraging machine learning, pattern formation and self-assembly strategies.

How do you describe your research to colleagues?
Emergent complexity in the dynamics of driven systems enables incredible functions in living organisms, including memory, computational processing, and adaptive evolution. Can we design and control dynamical complexity to self-assemble computing technologies from the bottom up that outperform traditional, top-down designs? Through data-driven discovery of parsimonious dimension-reduced models, I aim to design machine-learning-inspired reservoir computing technologies in systems of active matter. Realization of physical reservoir computers will represent a paradigm shift in computational technology that has the potential to rapidly compete and potentially outperform traditional digital electronics.

How do you describe your research to non-scientists?
The whole is often greater than the sum of its parts. While engineers traditionally piece together basic parts (like pendula and gears) to design a system (like a clock) from a blueprint, simple components can also interact to produce surprising collective behavior spontaneously, as seen in systems ranging from social networks and economic markets to swarms of animals and neuronal networks. I study the physics and mathematics that govern the development of such complex behavior, which involves instabilities, pattern formation, and synchronization phenomena. I hope to shine light on how living and other natural systems achieve their functions without guidance and to leverage this understanding for engineering technologies like computer processors.

What public benefit do you hope will come from your work?
There are three main public benefits that I hope will come from my work. First, the development of machine learning algorithms is currently booming, and there is a need to incorporate traditional physical understanding into these novel algorithms. I am collaborating with leading scientists at the University of Washington to develop physics-based algorithms for the data-driven discovery of parsimonious models. Second, these new computational techniques promise to shine light on challenging long-standing problems by integrating information across scales in real complex systems. I hope to develop new understanding in the study of complexity that will shine light on important biological, physical, and social phenomena. Lastly, by creating new collaborations with experimentalists working in active matter systems, I hope to create physical reservoir computer prototypes, which have been theoretically studied but will remain poorly understood until they are physically realized. This work will represent an important step to commercializing next-generation computational technologies.

What difference has the Washington Research Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship made to your work?
The WRF Postdoctoral Fellowship connects me with excellent mentors and scientific leaders at the University of Washington. This has been especially valuable to me as a new resident to the state. The three years of funding granted by the fellowship provides me with ample time to publish papers, develop a network of collaborators, and gain mentoring experience, giving me a firm foundation to launch my scientific career. I am extremely grateful for the opportunity to work with the WRF and interact with the other talented Fellows in the program!

 

 

 

Dr. Sam Pellock

University of Washington Department of Biochemistry

What would you like people to know about you?
I grew up in a small town in southern Illinois and initially got interested in the natural world by taking care of my Dad’s fish tank and watching nature documentaries. In college I studied chemistry and biology and found a particular interest in organic chemistry and structural biology. My research in graduate school was focused on enzymes in the microbiome and how they affect human health. My continued interest in enzymes and the natural world has led me to my current research: how to make new enzymes that address environmental problems like plastic pollution and climate change.

How do you describe your research to colleagues?
I am using computational protein design and activity-based protein profiling to design and test novel enzymes that catalyze the breakdown of the plastic polymer polyethylene terephthalate (PET). Specifically, I am using first principles of hydrolytic chemistry to design proteins that can bind PET polymers and catalyze their degradation into monomeric components that can be used in place of fossil fuels to generate new plastics and create a sustainable, circular plastic recycling system.

How do you describe your research to non-scientists?
I’m building new proteins from scratch that can be used to recycle plastic pollutants like water bottles and packaging materials.

What public benefit do you hope will come from your work?
I hope that this research will provide new recycling technologies that provide a more sustainable way to recycle and re-use the plastic products that we utilize in our everyday lives. New recycling plants based on enzyme technologies should help reduce the amount of plastic waste in our environment and provide a more affordable and sustainable alternative to new plastics generated from fossil fuels that contribute to rapidly increasing levels of plastic pollution in the environment.

What difference has the Washington Research Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship made to your work?
The WRF postdoctoral Fellowship has given me the freedom to pursue an ambitious project in protein design that addresses a key environmental problem that impacts all of us. Support from the WRF Postdoctoral Fellowship has also enabled a more expansive collaboration network that will be essential to the success of this project and future transition of these scientific endeavors into a real product that the community can use to make plastic products a sustainable component of our lives.

Dr. Eric Szelenyi

University of Washington Department of Biological Structure

What would you like people to know about you?
I was raised in rural Pennsylvania by New York City parents. Somehow, I became the first person from my family to pursue science or anything medical-related as a career. After ditching the idea of going to art school, I developed a strong knack for neuroscience research at a small, rural state University where I participated in any available psychology and biochemistry research that was available. Many moons later, I am now in the Department of Biological Structure at UW tackling a very hard neural coding problem through independent research with Sam Golden. Like most of the other Fellows, I am infinitely inspired by the nature and majesty of the PNW and am actively engaged in outdoor sports as well as music. I am grateful for the incredible support and companionship of my wife and dog over the years of me studying brains and genetics.

How do you describe your research to colleagues?
Behavior and thought emerge through the patterned co-activity of neurons that is propagated across the brain on a time scale of milliseconds to seconds. New methods must be developed in order to crack this “brain-wide” form of neural coding in preclinical experiments with appropriate spatiotemporal resolution. Once in place, we will be in a better position to predict the functional architecture of brain dysfunction from a disease-agnostic standpoint and do a better job at translating the efficacy of CNS therapeutics before they reach humans. To reach this goal and through the WRF, I am developing a preclinical assay of brain function that intersects genetic, optical, and computational technology with collaboration across four research groups at UW and Boston University.

How do you describe your research to non-scientists?
I am building a monitor of brain function that will allow me to physically read the minds of mice with the greatest spatiotemporal resolution.

What public benefit do you hope will come from your work?
The end goal of my project will be very useful in CNS drug development, through providing an advanced and novel biomarker of brain function for developers to reliably predict drug action prior to Clinical Trials in humans. This technology can further serve as a preclinical starting point in the current push for precision medicine in psychiatry, by utilizing this “ensemble-omics” approach in preclinical heritability studies in which the interplay of genes, pharmacology, and behavior converge in our biomarker datasets. Ultimately, this work will directly address the mental health epidemic of 21st century which big pharma is currently failing to fix.

What difference has the Washington Research Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship made to your work?
Simply put, the WRF fellowship has made the ambitious nature of my project more feasible for me to pursue independently at my career stage. Additionally, it has helped establish a groundwork for networking that aids the technology development from both academic and private perspectives. The professional development gained through the WRF is invaluable!

Dr. Andrew Weitz

Western Washington University Department of Environmental Sciences

What would you like people to know about you?
I am a plant ecophysiologist working in the Department of Environmental Sciences at Western Washington University as a new WRF Postdoctoral Fellow. I earned my Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley with the Department of Integrative Biology, and my B.S. from the University of California, Santa Cruz with the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. I recently moved to Bellingham, WA after completing a postdoc at ETH Zürich with the Institute of Molecular Plant Biology.

How do you describe your research to colleagues?
My research program draws on my background in plant ecology and evolution as well as my more recent training in plant ecophysiology, stable isotope biogeochemistry, and landscape ecohydrology. Within this interdisciplinary framework, I take an integrated approach to investigating the physiological ecology of forest ecosystems as they respond to climate change, with a particular focus on drought impacts. My newest research project supported by the WRF involves quantifying the vulnerability of the dominant tree species in the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest to mortality in response to climate change-induced reductions in spring snow water availability. The primary goals of this project are to 1) quantify the historical growth responses of each species to past climates using tree ring widths, 2) derive the mechanistic physiological responses of each species to historical drought years using xylem anatomical traits and tree ring isotopes, and 3) predict the comparative vulnerability of each species to dying under future drought scenarios. These goals will be accomplished through collections of tree ring samples from each species in sites that experienced the lowest snow water equivalent and highest climatic water deficit during the recent 2015 drought, which predominantly occurred in the North Cascades. Statistical comparisons of xylem anatomical traits (e.g. tracheid wall thickness, lumen diameter), dual-isotope trajectories (e.g. annual δ13C and δ18O signatures), and isotope-derived water use efficiencies (e.g. μmol of carbon gained per mol of water lost) will be used to predict which species are most vulnerable to dying during years of reduced water availability and increased temperatures. These results will directly inform management efforts geared towards protecting the stability of the ecosystem services that this forest provides through the future.

How do you describe your research to non-scientists?
My research program focuses on the intersection between forests, soils, and climate. I aim to understand how forests are impacted by climate change, particularly in response to drought and increased temperatures. To date, my research has focused on how the physiological impacts of rising temperatures and water deficits vary across different forest tree species as a function of their root access to water and differences in their tolerance to drought. My works aims to better understand and predict the vulnerability of different forest species to mortality under the warmer, drier conditions that arise with climate change, and how exposure to these conditions varies with topography across different forest landscapes. I use a range of field, lab, and computational methods to quantify and predict plant stress, water use, carbon acquisition, and mortality. My results help inform management efforts geared toward protecting and preserving the ecosystem services that forests provide, such as carbon sequestration, water filtration, and air purification.

What public benefit do you hope will come from your work?
The poor physiological performance of Washington’s forests in response to climate change has tremendous potential for negatively impacting our local economy, public health, and overall quality of life due to its consequent impacts to the life sustaining ecosystem services that our forests provide. My research directly addresses the WRF’s goals of benefiting Washingtonians, as it allows me to help inform State and Indigenous management planning efforts to help protect and maintain the resilience of our different forested systems to climate change.

What difference has the Washington Research Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship made to your work?
My work has significantly improved due to the support I have with my WRF Postdoctoral Fellowship, as it has allowed me to establish my own long-term forest research and monitoring system. With this system, I can continue expanding my research program with a specific focus on Washingtonian forests, while simultaneously building the essential academic relationships and collaborations required for me to advance my career in academia. Moreover, support from this fellowship allows me to continue my tradition of training, mentoring, and collaborating with students to help them achieve their own career goals.

Dr. Angela Yu

University of Washington Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering

What would you like people to know about you?
The many mysteries of how RNAs function has been the focus of my research career. I am particularly interested in elucidating RNA regulation mechanisms and building tools to improve human health and advance biotechnology applications. I am passionate about interdisciplinary research, in particular combining biology and computational techniques, which has led me to pursue degrees in Computational Biology.  I am excited to continue unraveling new RNA mysteries as a Washington Research Fellow at the University of Washington.

How do you describe your research to colleagues?
I use massively parallel reporter assays and deep learning to investigate how sequence and subcellular localization together modulate RNA stability. This work will provide new insights into RNA degradation regulation and diseases involving misbalanced RNA levels. I will apply predictive models to elucidate determinants of RNA degradation and to engineer RNA longevity for mRNA therapeutics applications.

How do you describe your research to non-scientists?
I study how RNA, an essential molecule that is found in all forms of life, is degraded in human cells. RNAs play critical roles in maintaining life, and specific abundances of RNAs are necessary to maintain healthy cells. RNAs are produced based on the cell’s needs, and RNAs that are no longer needed are degraded. However, there are many forms of RNA degradation mechanisms within human cells and act in specific locations of the cell. When these RNA degradation mechanisms do not function well, then disease could occur. I will interrogate these RNA degradation mechanisms with highly parallel experiments, and use machine learning to better understand and predict RNA degradation outcomes.

What public benefit do you hope will come from your work?
My work will deepen our understanding of RNA degradation through massively parallel assays, computational analyses, and creation of new prediction and design tools. RNA degradation is an ubiquitous process that affects all RNAs and thus RNA degradation research has implications in all kingdoms of life, human disease, and bioengineering and synthetic biology applications.

What difference has the Washington Research Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship made to your work?
The Washington Research Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship will enable me to pursue independent research directions to meet unmet public needs and career development in the exciting Washington research environment. Specifically, the Washington Research Foundation’s funding will aid my goals through continued training as an interdisciplinary scientist while working on impactful RNA degradation research.


2020 Fellows

Dr. Daniel Birman, University of Washington Department of Biological Structure
Dr. Alison Chase, University of Washington Applied Physics Laboratory
Dr. Rossana Colon-Thillet, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center
Dr. Jason Coult, University of Washington Department of Medicine
Dr. Cameron Glasscock, University of Washington Department of Biochemistry
Dr. Norma Morella, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center
Dr. Eric Peterman, University of Washington Department of Biology
Dr. Maria Purice, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center
Dr. Teresa Rapp, University of Washington Department of Chemical Engineering
Dr. Martha Zepeda Rivera, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center


 

Dr. Daniel Birman

University of Washington Department of Biological Structure

What would you like people to know about you?
I am a neuroscientist interested in figuring out how to connect brains to computers. I teach classes on neuroscience and rock climbing and I spend my spare time up in the mountains.

How do you describe your research to colleagues?
In my research, I measure physiological signals (spikes, BOLD signal, etc) and behavior and try to link these together with computational models. At UW my project involves recording from multiple simultaneous Neuropixels electrodes during a sensory selection behavior in mice. Using this dataset I can model how sensory information is transferred between brain areas, e.g. from visual cortex to prefrontal regions. My long-term goal is to use these results to design algorithms for brain-machine interface use in primates.

How do you describe your research to non-scientists?
I study attention to understand how different brain areas communicate information to each other. Think about when you walk through Seattle. When you are on a sidewalk you might selectively attend to pedestrians, but while in a crosswalk you might shift your attention to the vehicles around you. I teach mice and humans to perform attention tasks like these, while simultaneously measuring neural activity from throughout the brain. This kind of dataset can then be used to build models of cognition. In my work, this would involve looking at how the brain selects out the important visual information (the pedestrians or cars) and sends that information to decision-making areas.

What public benefit do you hope will come from your work?
We know that different areas of the brain are specialized for different purposes such as vision or muscle control. If you implant electrodes into these specialized areas it is possible to build basic prosthetic eyes and limbs. What we don’t yet know how to do is interface with cognitive areas of the brain. My work gives us some of the basic knowledge which we need to start moving toward that goal. One of my long-term goals is for my research to eventually lead to interventions that can restore function in neurological disorders of attention.

What difference has the Washington Research Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship made to your work?
With the resources available at UW, the Allen Institute, and in the larger WRF network, Seattle is an ideal place to pursue my research program. The WRF Fellowship gives me the resources to work here in Seattle in a cutting edge electrophysiology lab and the freedom to take on more risk in collaborative projects. The fellowship will also allow me to keep a foot in both human cognitive neuroscience, where I earned my Ph.D., and rodent electrophysiology where I am now working as a postdoc. I aim to be a bridge between these two fields, which I think could benefit from better interdisciplinary communication.

Dr. Alison Chase

University of Washington Applied Physics Laboratory

What would you like people to know about you?
I am an optical oceanographer, which means that I use measurements of the how light interacts with materials in the water as a tool to learn about ocean ecosystems and processes. I grew up in New England and completed my PhD in Oceanography at the University of Maine. I love to be active and challenge myself to learn new things, in my life both within and outside of work.

How do you describe your research to colleagues?
We apply optical and environmental data measured in situ to investigate distributions of different phytoplankton groups in surface waters on ocean basin scales. Recent advancements in instrumentation allow us to collect imagery data on phytoplankton communities at unprecedented spatial and temporal resolution using automated microscopy. We develop algorithms to link the phytoplankton imagery to information extracted from hyperspectral optical measurements. This work is motivated by the upcoming launch of NASA satellite instruments that will provide hyperspectral optical information from space, which in turn will be used to investigate global ocean phytoplankton community composition via the application of our algorithms.

How do you describe your research to non-scientists?
Nearly all life in the ocean is supported by phytoplankton. These single-celled organisms photosynthesize as land plants do, and are extremely diverse in their size, morphology, and ecosystem function. Phytoplankton community composition in the ocean influences carbon and nutrient cycles as well as marine food webs. To study phytoplankton communities on large spatial scales in the ocean, we link optical measurements – essentially measurements of the color and brightness of the water – to the presence of different phytoplankton groups, which in turn are determined using automated microscopy and deep learning techniques. The big-picture views of phytoplankton communities gained from applying our methods gives us the tools to answer important questions about ocean ecosystems, and how they may be changing as the ocean and earth climate shifts.

What public benefit do you hope will come from your work?
I hope to share my findings and communicate with the public through avenues such as public lectures, K-12 school visits, and social media. This sharing of knowledge benefits the public by empowering people to make decisions about how they choose to interact with the marine environment through recreation, consumption of seafood, or support of politicians who take a stance on the promotion of ocean health and protection of resources.

What difference has the Washington Research Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship made to your work?
The autonomy provided to me by the WRF Postdoctoral Fellowship funding will allow me to pursue avenues in my research that I am both passionate about and that will be significant contributions to the field of optical oceanography and marine science. I will also have the opportunity to collaborate with experts in other fields such as computer science and genomics to address oceanographic questions in new ways and while taking advantage of cutting-edge technologies.

Dr. Rossana Colon-Thillet

Fred Hutchinson Cancer Reseach Center

What would you like people to know about you?
I am a virologist working in Dr. Keith Jerome’s laboratory at the Fred Hutch. Growing up in Puerto Rico, I witnessed endemic dengue fever. My personal experiences with this debilitating, potentially fatal, viral infection made me aware of the urgent need for antiviral therapies; specifically, against viruses that receive less attention and research despite their high global burden. These experiences motivated me to pursue a career in science to develop and apply novel therapeutics to eradicate viral infections.

How do you describe your research to colleagues?
Current antiviral treatments for HBV infection can effectively suppress HBV replication, but they require long-term maintenance therapy and rarely result in a permanent cure. Antiviral treatments for HBV include reverse transcriptase inhibitors (RTi) that target a cytoplasmic step in the viral replication cycle where viral RNA is transcribed into DNA. The template for the viral RNA is a stable form of the genomic DNA, termed covalently closed circular DNA (cccDNA), which is not impacted by RTi treatment. cccDNA is present in the nucleus of infected hepatocytes in a non-integrated form or episome. Even among patients that have cleared acute HBV infections, cccDNA can be detected in the liver, which explains the reactivation seen during immunosuppression in these individuals. Thus, the presence of cccDNA in hepatocytes is a major hurdle for an HBV cure. In my postdoctoral research, I am working on the development of a novel mouse model to investigate and test CRISPR-Cas9 gene-editing therapeutics for HBV.

How do you describe your research to non-scientists?
Hepatitis B virus (HBV) infection in infancy can lead to chronic infection. If left untreated, chronic HBV infection often results in cirrhosis and liver cancer. Current treatments can help fight the virus and slow its ability to damage the liver, but do not completely remove it from liver cells. Eliminating or inactivating this “reservoir” is crucial to cure HBV infection. I aim to develop a cure for HBV using enzymes that act like molecular scissors to introduce errors in the HBV genome that inactivate its function permanently or eliminate it.

What public benefit do you hope will come from your work?
I hope that my work contributes to the development of novel therapeutics to eradicate HBV chronic viral infection. Although a vaccine has been in existence since the 1980s, HBV infections are still a sizable global health concern. According to the WHO, in 2015, 257 million people worldwide were living with chronic HBV infection. The prevalence of HBV is the highest in the WHO regions of African and Western Pacific, where vaccination coverage at birth or early childhood remains low. Because most people living with chronic HBV today were born before the vaccine introduction, which can range from the 1980s to the early 2000s, the mortality of viral hepatitis is expected to increase if diagnostics and treatments remain lacking in areas with high prevalence.

What difference has the Washington Research Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship made to your work?
The WRF Postdoctoral Fellowship will help me achieve my goals by expanding my network and allowing me to develop opportunities to collaborate with local scientists whose goal is to deliver new technologies to the public. Cooperation is what excites me about science; it provides the possibility of improving the quality of people’s lives through innovation and creativity. Additionally, the support provided by WRF will give me the freedom to expand my research program to facilitate the transition to a career as an independent scientist.

Dr. Jason Coult

University of Washington Department of Medicine

What would you like people to know about you?
I express myself creatively both as a musician and a scientist. Since beginning my scientific studies as an undergrad, I have continued to play piano gigs on the side to balance my research work. I completed my Bioengineering PhD in 2019, and am excited for the opportunity to continue my work as a Postdoctoral Fellow in the University of Washington Department of Medicine.

How do you describe your research to colleagues?
Current treatment for out-of-hospital sudden cardiac arrest follows a largely predefined, one-size-fits-all protocol. This protocol governs the use of defibrillator rhythm analysis and cardioversion shock, medications, chest compressions, artificial respirations, and other therapy. Current survival rates from cardiac arrest are low, but could potentially be improved by a more patient-specific approach whereby therapy is adjusted dynamically in real time based on a patient’s current status. One barrier to this type of precision medicine approach is current defibrillator technology and the inability to assess real-time patient status in detail during active resuscitation. My research is focused on proof-of-concept next-generation defibrillator algorithms to bridge this gap. Using retrospective analysis of electrocardiogram, chest impedance, and other signals acquired by the defibrillator, I work with a team of physicians and engineers to design and validate algorithms to provide a more detailed assessment of real-time patient status. Specific examples include continuous real-time estimation of patient myocardial physiology during ventricular fibrillation (to improve shock timing and optimize duration of cardiopulmonary resuscitation), or performing cardiac rhythm analysis continuously rather than requiring a pause in chest compressions to assess the patient’s rhythm.

How do you describe your research to non-scientists?

When someone’s heart stops pumping blood, medics attempt to revive them using a defibrillator. I use recordings of these events to explore ways to make defibrillators smarter.

What public benefit do you hope will come from your work?
Survival rates from out-of-hospital cardiac arrest are low, and significant improvements in therapy could potentially save many thousands of lives each year. My group and I have the unique advantage of access to a large data repository of cardiac arrest recordings. My goal is to help develop and publish big-data-based methods for improved defibrillator-guided treatment of cardiac arrest. The hope is that defibrillator manufacturers would eventually implement these methods to improve care and save additional lives.

What difference has the Washington Research Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship made to your work?

The WRF Postdoctoral Fellowship allows me to continue my current research versus having to potentially cease these projects and explore options in industry. Since research results are not guaranteed or necessarily profitable, this type of work may not otherwise have been allowed to proceed without funding from an organization such as the WRF. The supply budget also has allowed me to purchase computational power to enable use of deep learning methods. Ultimately the WRF funding will enable publication of my results (whether positive or negative), thus furthering our understanding of a major public health burden (cardiac arrest) and its treatment.

Dr. Cameron Glasscock

University of Washington Department of Biochemistry

What would you like people to know about you?
I am interested in the design of biomolecules to solve problems in biotechnology and human health. I earned my PhD in 2019 at Cornell University where I focused on optimizing synthetic pathways for protein glycosylation and designing genetic control systems to manage burden and toxicity in microbial metabolic pathways. I am now interested in engineering enzymes – the key components of metabolic pathways – to create diversity in the molecules that can be synthesized with microbial biomanufacturing.

How do you describe your research to colleagues?
I am using computational protein design to create novel enzymes for the biosynthesis of modified natural product molecules. To do this, I am exploring large-scale pooled gene synthesis and high-throughput assays to rapidly screen thousands of computationally designed enzyme variants. These computationally designed enzymes can have many advantages over naturally occurring enzymes, including the use of unnatural cofactors that enable new enzymatic reactions.

How do you describe your research to non-scientists?
Natural product molecules from plants, fungi, and bacteria are a significant source of modern medicines, including antibiotics, anti-cancer drugs, and antimalarials. In addition to their frequent use as drug molecules, natural products are heavily used in agriculture and have potential for use as biofuels and commodity chemicals. However, their harvesting and production can be costly and environmentally unsustainable. Also, many natural product molecules possess undesirable properties, requiring modification of their structures to fulfill unmet public needs. I am using computational protein design tools to create new enzymes that can be used in engineered microbial cells for sustainable bioproduction of modified natural product molecules.

What public benefit do you hope will come from your work?
My work will enable large-scale synthesis of complex molecules that would be difficult to produce sustainably using synthetic chemistry or purely with enzymes found in nature. These molecules can be used as new sources of medicine, and as agricultural and commodity chemicals. By utilizing tools for computational protein design, my work will enable creation of unnatural enzymes that can be incorporated into engineered metabolic pathways to allow microbial biomanufacturing of diverse molecules.

What difference has the Washington Research Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship made to your work?
The WRF Postdoctoral Fellowship grants freedom to pursue independent directions in my research and an opportunity to learn from and share my work with a creative and interdisciplinary community of WRF Fellows. In addition, the research allowance will allow me to travel to meetings and learn from experts in my field.

Dr. Norma Morella

Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center

What would you like people to know about you?
I grew up in Estacada, Oregon and moved to Los Angeles for college where I received a BA in Biology and Spanish Literature from Occidental College. After that, I spent two years in Washington D.C. before moving back to California to get my PhD in Microbiology from UC Berkeley. Now, I’m happy to be back in the Pacific Northwest living in Seattle and working at Fred Hutch! I love to hike, ski, climb, read, and travel.

How do you describe your research to colleagues?
I study the connection between intestinal microbiota and colorectal cancer. Specifically, I’m interested in bacterial production of secondary bile acids that may act as carcinogens or chemoprotectants. In conjunction with this, I also study bacteriophages (phages), which are viruses that infect bacteria. In general, I’m interested in their role in complex microbial communities and how this relates to host health. I would like to develop phage-based therapeutic tools for rational microbiome manipulation.

How do you describe your research to non-scientists?
Microbes are everywhere- including inside of us. Often, we refer to a collection of microbes (bacteria, viruses, and other microbes) and all of their genetic material as a microbiome. I study the human intestinal microbiome. The human microbiome is essential for our health- ranging from immunity to digestion. However, in the large intestine, some types of bacteria (and the chemicals they produce) might increase the risk of developing colorectal cancer. I study these bacteria, and I also study certain types of viruses that kill these bacteria. I hope to figure out connections between these microbes and one’s risk of developing colorectal cancer so that we can develop novel prevention and treatment strategies.

What public benefit do you hope will come from your work?
Colorectal cancer is a global leading cause of cancer-related deaths. I hope that my research on the intestinal microbiome, and specifically bacteriophages, will meet the need for improvement of current colorectal cancer detection and treatment methods. In general, I hope my work contributes to our growing understanding of the role of the microbiome in human health and disease.

What difference has the Washington Research Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship made to your work?
The WRF postdoc fellowship has given me the opportunity to conduct meaningful research in an emerging field. It allowed me to join a top tier institution and also be a part of the larger scientific community in Washington. Overall, the WRF fellowship provides me with essential support to achieve my career goals while living in a place I love!

Dr. Eric Peterman

University of Washington Department of Biology

What would you like people to know about you?
Throughout my PhD training, I gained appreciation for subcellular structures using different microscopy techniques. Seeing how cells divide and move at microscopic levels encouraged me to obtain a postdoctoral position that utilizes zebrafish as a model organism, in which I’ll be live-imaging neurons and immune cells. Coming from Maine and Colorado, I have a great appreciation for the outdoors, which I will be exploring with my wife, daughter, and dog.

How do you describe your research to colleagues?
Skin-resident macrophages are known to protect against pathogens and infections, as well as clear debris from sites of injury. However, whether these immune cells directly aid in axonal regeneration or axon guidance after injury is unknown. The repopulation of nerves after injury is paramount, as loss of reinnervation in the skin ultimately will lead to loss of sensation at that site.

How do you describe your research to non-scientists?
Our skin is a dual-function organ. Not only is it the first line of defense against environmental insults and pathogens, but it also acts as a sensory organ. Oftentimes, our everyday sensation of touch, pain, and temperature are taken for granted. Since our skin constantly undergoes damage and remodeling, skin repair is incredibly important. A phenomenon following skin injury that is poorly understood is how our neurons successfully reinnervate the skin to restore it to full functionality. After skin injury, large amounts of debris are generated from dying cells, and it is the responsibility of tissue-resident immune cells to aid in the clearance of this debris. The underlying goals of my research will be to examine how these immune cells interact with neurons to successfully reinnervate the skin after injury.

What public benefit do you hope will come from your work?
Patients with diabetic neuropathy and chemotherapy-induced neuropathy have decreased sensation due to lack of skin innervation. Going forward, my basic research questions will be informative for these conditions, in which I hope to better understand reinnervation after injury.

What difference has the Washington Research Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship made to your work?
Obtaining a WRF Fellowship has allowed me to generate and carry out research ideas independent of my postdoctoral advisor. Ultimately, this will aid in my long-term goal of obtaining a faculty position of my own. I am also grateful for the additional research support and symposium opportunities provided by the WRF.

Dr. Maria Purice

Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center

What would you like people to know about you?
I was born in Romania and moved to Oregon when I was 11 years old. I very quickly fell in love with the Pacific Northwest and truly enjoy exploring everything the outdoors have to offer. Early in undergrad I became fascinated with how a few groups of cells can connect to give rise to an organ as complex as the brain and later pursued a PhD in neuroscience at Oregon Health and Science University. I am still curious about understanding how the brain works at a cellular level to understand how to fix it when things go awry, such as in injury or disease. I am also passionate about STEM outreach and education, especially in underrepresented communities.

How do you describe your research to colleagues?
It has been proposed that glial function may predict the selective vulnerability of brain regions to specific diseases and age-related cognitive decline. However, it remains elusive how changes in glial gene expression and function could impact cognitive decline, neurodegeneration, and glial dysfunction present in aging and pathological states. Our lab has shown that in C. elegans, glia use specific molecular cues to regulate neuron morphology and sensory behaviors, suggesting that glia could affect neuronal aging and longevity. My project aims to look at how different glia impact neural aging by specifically monitoring and manipulating a single neuron’s interactions with two different subsets of glia. In addition, I am performing single cell RNAseq on each glial subtype in young and aged animals to uncover changes in the molecular profile of these cells. Long-term, my aim is to uncover novel glia-dependent neuroprotective pathways that can be exploited to delay or block neurodegeneration.

How do you describe your research to non-scientists?
The brain allows us to perceive and interact with the world around us. Nerve cells or neurons talk to each other through networks and this allows for the complex calculations which are the basis of our thoughts, emotions and actions. During aging, the connections between neurons deteriorate and this causes people to become more forgetful and even get certain diseases. However, neurons could not function at all without another type of brain cell called glia. Neurons and glia together make up the brain and they are extremely interconnected with each other. Because human brains have billions of neurons and billions of glia, our lab uses nematodes called C.elegans to study the connections between neurons and glia. Although nematode brains are very small, nematodes still perceive and interact with the world around them using complicated networks between neurons and glia. My project focuses on how glial cells age and how aged glia affect the neurons to which they are connected. The long term of this project is to find signals within glia that will keep neurons young in aged brains.

What public benefit do you hope will come from your work?
Aging is the biggest risk factor for cognitive decline and most neurodegenerative diseases. Effective treatments that delay or block the progression of age-related neurodegenerative disorders are critical as it is expected that by 2050 more than 20% of the total US population will be age 65 and older. Our findings will provide the foundation for better understanding changes in neuron-glia interactions during brain aging and may direct research in other species or disease models towards better treatment strategies for age-related neurological disorders.

What difference has the Washington Research Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship made to your work?
I am very grateful to be a WRF fellow! Research funding is very competitive, especially during these uncertain times, and applying for such opportunities is time consuming. Receiving the WRF Fellowship has allowed me to focus my time and efforts on my research project full time. The fellowship is also allowing me to explore high risk ideas that will one day direct me toward becoming an independent investigator. In addition, being part of the WRF community has allowed me to form essential connections within the greater Seattle area. I look forward to presenting my data and receiving feedback from the diverse WRF community as my project progresses along.

Dr. Teresa Rapp

University of Washington Department of Chemical Engineering

What would you like people to know about you?
I was born and raised in CA before moving to Philadelphia to pursue a PhD at Penn. I will probably always be a chemist at heart, even though I’m currently working in Chemical Engineering. While one of my passions is pursuing my research, I’m equally excited about getting into the kitchen and baking up a new recipe! My labmates are always kind enough to eat up my baked goods so I can try new things.

How do you describe your research to colleagues?
I am pushing the boundaries of light responsive dynamic biomaterials. Current light responsive technologies are limited to use on the benchtop, they never make it into living organisms. I want to change that.

I am currently synthesizing a new series of photocleavable crosslinkers to tether bioactive proteins to a hydrogel biomaterial. These crosslinkers will respond to red and near-IR light, which can penetrate deeper into tissue than high energy blue and UV light. This material will help us study certain processes that are difficult to mimic on the benchtop, like the immune response to biomaterials and wound healing.

How do you describe your research to non-scientists?
I’m developing a new class of implantable materials designed to eliminate the human body’s natural ability to reject an implant. These materials are designed to release drugs through small doses of light, letting researchers use light to trigger events inside mice and humans. We see these materials being very useful in the development of lab-grown organs for better acceptance in organ transplants.

What public benefit do you hope will come from your work?
Making strides in the development of dynamic biomaterials will help us as we work towards creating organs on the benchtop. I hope my work will enable other researchers to design an appropriate strategy to create their organ of choice and implant it successfully, doing my part to solve the organ transplant crisis within my lifetime.

What difference has the Washington Research Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship made to your work?
The WRF Postdoc Fellowship has opened doors for me professionally as a scientist and future professor. By providing funds to travel, I am now able to visit and train under collaborators across the country, bringing their expertise back to Washington. The multiple opportunities to network with Seattle’s leading scientists and technologists across academia and industry is invaluable as I build my future career.

Dr. Martha Zepeda Rivera

Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center

What would you like people to know about you?
I was raised in Seattle and after receiving my Ph.D. in Biochemistry from Harvard University, I moved back to train at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. My project lies at the interface of basic and translational biology, where I aim to understand the complexity of microbial organisms, develop tools to allow the functional studies of any bacterium of interest and apply those tools to the study of one bacterium in the context of one prevalent human disease. As a graduate student I became heavily involved in science education and outreach and continue to make these a priority in my career. When I’m not being a scientist, I am a dog lover and Harry Potter aficionado and can usually be found at the nearest Harry Potter Trivia event.

How do you describe your research to colleagues?
There is a huge diversity in microbial organisms and the roles that each can serve within a specific environment and community can differ greatly. In order to understand these species and strain-specific roles, we need to be able to understand who is there, what are they doing, and importantly how are they doing it. To probe mechanistic questions about the functions of specific genes, we rely on genetic engineering approaches. However, the vast majority of bacteria that can be grown in a laboratory cannot be genetically engineered, largely due to the presence of innate defense systems that detect and degrade incoming DNA as non-self. While these systems evolved to protect against invading viral DNA, human-designed genetic tools are also susceptible to detection and degradation. I use a combination of synthetic microbiology, molecular biology and biochemistry to develop reproducible methodologies to overcome these innate bacterial defenses in a colorectal cancer-associated bacterium. Our goal is to develop genetic engineering approaches that will allow us to mechanistically probe at the role of this bacterium in the context of human disease and generate new methodologies to facilitate the genetic engineering of any bacterium of interest.

How do you describe your research to non-scientists?
Many bacteria have been shown to play important roles in human health, both positively in the maintenance of a healthy state and negatively in the causation of specific diseases. I am interested in asking whether a specific bacterium enriched in colorectal cancer tumors contributes to disease onset, progression or treatment efficacy. In order to understand what this bacterium is doing and how it’s doing it, we require the ability to genetically engineer (add, remove, or modify) specific genes to understand their specific functions during infection. The majority of bacteria that we can grow in a laboratory are resistant to current genetic engineering approaches because bacteria have evolved mechanisms to protect their genome from foreign changes, which hampers our efforts. We develop tools to bypass these defense mechanisms and my goal is to implement and further develop methodologies for the successful genetic engineering of my bacteria of interest in order to probe at and understand its role in colorectal cancer.

What public benefit do you hope will come from your work?
Ultimately, the goal is to understand whether targeting of this bacterial agent is a therapeutic avenue for the treatment of colorectal cancer (CRC). CRC is the third most common cancer worldwide and the second most common cancer in the state of Washington. A high proportion of advanced CRC patients become unresponsive to chemotherapeutic treatment over time, therefore exploring potential causative agents and their contribution to disease could unveil novel therapeutic targets.

What difference has the Washington Research Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship made to your work?
The Washington Research Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship will provide me with invaluable scientific freedom to apply creative, high-risk and high-reward approaches to help solve the fundamental barrier to bacterial genetic intractability.


2019 Fellows

Dr. Jeremy Baker, University of Washington Division of Gerontology and Geriatric Medicine
Dr. Samuel Bryson, University of Washington Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering
Dr. Denise Buenrostro, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center
Dr. Joshua Larson, University of Washington Department of Physiology and Biophysics
Dr. Caleb Stoltzfus, University of Washington School of Medicine, Department of Immunology
Dr. James Thomas, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center
Dr. Levi Todd, University of Washington Department of Biological Structure
Dr. Jue Wang, University of Washington Department of Chemical Engineering
Dr. Alison Weber, University of Washington Department of Biology
Dr. Rachel Welicky, University of Washington School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences


 

Dr. Jeremy Baker

University of Washington Division of Gerontology and Geriatric Medicine

What would you like people to know about you?
I am a neuroscientist specializing in the underlying causes of neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimer’s disease. We are working to one day find new treatments for this horrible disease.

How do you describe your research to colleagues?
In our lab we study the underlying pathology of Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and other tauopathies. Tauopathies are disorders resulting from the aberrant aggregation of the protein tau. In order to identify genes that worsen tau aggregation and neurodegeneration, our lab developed a transgenic Caenorhabditis elegans (nematode) model which overexpresses human tau. This model led to the discovery of sut-2, a gene which promotes tau toxicity. In humans, the homolog of SUT-2 protein is MSUT2. MSUT2, an RNA binding protein, is abundant in neurons and correlates with an increase in pathological tau in Alzheimer’s disease patients. The Kraemer lab has shown that MSUT2 knockout in mouse models protects against tauopathy by reducing the abundance of tau deposits, preserving neuronal health, and preserving memory. We hypothesize that inhibiting MSUT2 activity with small molecules may be a viable strategy to treat AD. Our goal is to identify lead compounds with potential clinical potential.

How do you describe your research to non-scientists?
Tangles are a major hallmark seen in Alzheimer’s disease (AD) brain cells, or neurons. These tangles are composed of the protein tau, which has started to clump up and disrupt the normal function of neurons. This disruption in the normal function of neurons eventually leads to cell death and the symptoms we associate with AD, including loss of memory. It is the goal of our work to find new drugs that target the protein tau and to eventually get these compounds to the clinic for the treatment of AD.

What public benefit do you hope will come from your work?
The last 20 years of Alzheimer’s research has unfortunately resulted in no disease-modifying therapeutics. No treatments halt or even slow the progression of AD. It is our hope that by targeting novel proteins, we might discover new therapeutics for the treatment of AD.

What difference has the Washington Research Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship made to your work?
Without the generous support of the Washington Research Foundation this work would not be possible. The WRF has already allowed us to screen thousands of compounds resulting in exciting preliminary lead candidates. WRF support has meant independence for me as a researcher, allowing the exploration of projects not currently funded in the lab. The WRF has provided numerous networking opportunities and has followed through on a goal to integrate scientific discovery, entrepreneurship, and community resources.

Dr. Samuel Bryson

University of Washington Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering

What would you like people to know about you?
I have diverse interests, and generally like to talk science and learn from colleagues with different backgrounds and training. As a microbial ecologist, my primary scientific interest lies in understanding how systems of functionally diverse microorganisms interact with each other and their environment to perform higher-order ecosystem processes. As a graduate student I used ‘omics’ tools to study the complex microbial communities that drive marine carbon cycling. Now, as a postdoc I am using that same tool kit for research that can be more directly applied to technology development; I’m studying the microbial consortia that are harnessed for wastewater treatment systems – more specifically, for biological nitrogen removal.

How do you describe your research to colleagues?
I am researching the community assembly dynamics within biofilms that consist of aerobic nitrifiers, anaerobic ammonia oxidizers (Anammox), and heterotrophs that perform denitrification or dissimilatory nitrate reduction to ammonia. By understanding the conditions that promote the syntrophic cooperation between nitrifiers and Anammox, we will be better able to harness them in wastewater treatment systems.

How do you describe your research to non-scientists?
In order to remove ammonia from wastewater, different types of microorganisms work together by performing different steps or transformations that ideally yield nitrogen gas. How efficiently these microorganisms work is a function of the community structure. My research seeks to identify environmental conditions that will select for a community that is more efficient.

What public benefit do you hope will come from your work?
Wastewater treatment plants are critical to protect natural waters from the harmful effects of eutrophication; however, their operation consumes 3-4% of the entire US electricity demand. A significant driver of these costs is running pumps that provide oxygen to nitrifiers, the bacteria that turn ammonia into nitrite and nitrate. My research seeks to identify potential microbial partnerships and environmental conditions that could harness Anammox in main-stream wastewater treatment systems, substantially reducing these energy costs.

What difference has the Washington Research Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship made to your work?
Support from the WRF Postdoctoral Fellowship has allowed me to develop as a scientist by giving me the freedom to pursue my own ideas and experimental approaches and collaborate with other scientists.

Dr. Denise Buenrostro

Fred Hutchinson Cancer Reseach Center

What would you like people to know about you?
I was born and raised in Chula Vista, California. I am a scientist, dog lover and dance enthusiast. I received my Ph.D. from Vanderbilt University in the field of cancer biology. After graduating, I moved to Seattle, Washington, in the summer of 2018 to train at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in the field of immunotherapy.

How do you describe your research to colleagues?
Opportunistic viruses such as Epstein-Barr virus, adenovirus, and cytomegalovirus raise mortality rates among hematopoietic stem cell transplant (HCT) recipients. I am generating T-cell receptors that recognize and eliminate these viruses from such patients. The goal is to improve recipients’ quality of life.

How do you describe your research to non-scientists?
Transplants of blood-forming stem cells are a standard of care for people with certain blood diseases like advanced leukemia. They can cure these diseases, but they also come with serious risks. Patients who receive a blood stem cell transplant are vulnerable to viral infections that lead to complications and ultimately death. These viruses are quite common; therefore, people with healthy immune systems can fend them off. But in immune-compromised individuals such as HCT recipients, they can be life-threatening. I am creating smart T cells that can identify and eliminate these viruses in patients following transplant. T cells are immune cells that are responsible for eliminating unhealthy cells such as pathogens and cancers. As a result, scientists have been interested in finding ways to strengthen T-cell responses against disease. This is one of the many goals that the immunotherapy field is hoping to accomplish.

What public benefit do you hope will come from your work?
Ultimately, the goal is to increase the longevity of post-transplant patients. I also hope that my research can be applied to the treatment of viral-driven cancers, which comprise of up to 20% of cancers worldwide. Fred Hutch has a centerwide initiative aimed at finding cures for pathogen-associated cancers, such as those linked to human papillomavirus (HPV) like cervical cancers and head and neck cancers. Since T cell–based immunotherapeutics have already shown promising results in the treatment of certain cancers, I believe that we can achieve similar, if not better, results in the treatment of viruses and viral-driven cancers.

What difference has the Washington Research Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship made to your work?
The Washington Research Foundation will allow me to continue my research and my time in Seattle. Having their support will be invaluable for my success at Fred Hutch.

Dr. Joshua Larson

University of Washington Department of Physiology and Biophysics

What would you like people to know about you?
I am a biophysicist interested in developing and applying new technologies to better understand how complex cellular machines assemble and function. I use optical trapping and fluorescence microscopy to study the process of chromosome segregation during cell division. I am an avid outdoor adventurer, and in my free time I like to go out and enjoy all the natural splendor that the Pacific Northwest has to offer.

How do you describe your research to colleagues?
Single molecule biophysics has become a powerful approach for studying how macro-molecular assemblies drive essential cellular processes. Kinetochores are complex protein machines that drive chromosome segregation during cell division. To do so they must form persistent, load-bearing attachments to dynamic microtubule tips, even as the tips assemble and disassemble under their grip. Kinetochores also sense and correct erroneous attachments and generate ‘wait’ signals to delay anaphase until all the chromosomes are properly attached. Failure of any of these essential functions results in aneuploidy, a hallmark of cancer. I have developed a novel in vitro kinetochore assembly assay that permits real-time imaging of kinetochores as they assemble on centromeric DNA using total internal reflectance fluorescence microscopy. This approach is integrated with optical trapping methods to measure the tip-coupling activity of assembled kinetochores and directly correlate kinetochore composition and dynamics with tip binding capacity; generating a precise understanding of how kinetochore assembly and composition regulate chromosome segregation and cell cycle progression and illuminating how failure of these pathways relates to human diseases such as cancer.

How do you describe your research to non-scientists?
Accurate segregation of duplicated DNA during cell division is essential to all life. In eukaryotes, duplicated chromosomes are segregated by an exquisite molecular machine, the mitotic spindle. Key to chromosome segregation is coupling of duplicated chromosomes to rope-like filaments called microtubules. Microtubules act as a molecular winch that pulls duplicated chromosomes apart. Chromosomes and microtubules are coupled by a large protein complex known as the kinetochore. The kinetochore synchronizes chromosome segregation and regulates the cell cycle to prevent daughter cells from receiving too many or too few chromosomes. Errors in this process can have catastrophic results for the organism. I use force microscopy and fluorescence microscopy to manipulate and observe how kinetochore composition and tension regulate kinetochore function so we can better understand how errors result in human disease.

What public benefit do you hope will come from your work?
Chromosome mis-segregation is characteristic of all solid tumors. The most successful anti-cancer drugs ever developed are anti-mitotics that target microtubules. Unfortunately microtubules are involved with many essential non-mitotic cellular processes leading to adverse side effects. Identifying key regulatory steps in kinetochore assembly and function has the potential to revolutionize the development of cancer treatments that specifically target dividing cells. Additionally, the methods we are developing to study kinetochore function can be adopted for studying other biological processes.

What difference has the Washington Research Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship made to your work?
The WRF fellowship provides a fantastic opportunity to network with scientists that have a diverse set of skills and experience and will serve as a platform for developing new and productive collaborations. Additionally, the support provided by the WRF for my research has allowed me to continue pursuing my research interests among one of best mitosis research communities in the country here in the Pacific Northwest.

Dr. Caleb Stoltzfus

University of Washington School of Medicine, Department of Immunology

What would you like people to know about you?
At my core I am an experimentalist, I love trying to figure out how things work and if I can make them better. I am particularly interested in pushing the limits of optical technologies, like lasers and microscopes, and I am working on turning this hobby into a career. In 2016 I graduated with a PhD in Physics from Montana State University, where I spent my time playing with lasers and building imaging systems in the Rebane lab. I look forward to seeing what breakthroughs the future of science holds, and hope that I can be a part of them.

How do you describe your research to colleagues?
I am working on an interdisciplinary research project attempting to elucidate how the spatial organization of immune cells in tissue microenvironments influence disease progression and treatment outcomes. Specifically, I am utilizing multi-dimensional spectrally resolved confocal microscopy to image the local environments of immune cells, and developing software tools to extract information from these imaging datasets and interrogate cellular composition, tissue architecture, and locations of cell-cell interactions.

How do you describe your research to non-scientists?
I am trying to create 3D schematics of tissues, with cellular resolution positional information, much like the schematics that come with Ikea furniture. In addition to the numbers and types of cells in tissues, the position of cells within tissues affects both how individual cells interact, and how whole organs function. Unlike Ikea furniture, even small tissues have millions of component parts, meaning I must develop software tools, which use images of tissues, and machine learning to create my schematics. These tools simultaneously look at millions of cells and distill their information down to a few key, understandable relationships. This will allow us to understand where different types of cells are, how they are interacting with each other, and what the structure of their host tissue is.

What public benefit do you hope will come from your work?
A better understanding of how the spatial organization of immune cells influences disease will provide significant benefit, yielding advances on both the basic research and clinical levels. Developing analysis tools directly in an immunology lab will yield more user friendly software, which will place powerful quantitative analysis techniques in the hands of biologists, who will direct and shape the forefront of immunological drug discovery, tissue exploration, and diagnostics.

What difference has the Washington Research Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship made to your work?
The unique nature of the WRF grant allows me greater creative freedom and to keep my tools open source, making them available to the wider scientific community. This improves the dissemination of new technology across wider fields of study, which ultimately promotes better science and collaborations in the state of Washington. The excellent facilities and broad expertise of the faculty in the Gerner lab and the Immunology department at the University of Washington, with the support network of WRF affiliates, will enable me to become a better scientist and a more impactful researcher.

Dr. James Thomas

Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center

What would you like people to know about you?
I am an RNA biologist, a husband, and soon-to-be dad . . . it’s a girl!

How do you describe your research to colleagues?
I am building CRISPR-based tools to experimentally study individual RNA isoforms. Using these methods, I study how RNA splicing contributes to cell growth in cancer.

How do you describe your research to non-scientists?
Proteins are some of the most important functional units in our cells. To make proteins, our cells turn on genes (these are encoded by our DNA) to produce a “recipe” for making proteins. This “recipe” is called RNA, and the cell follows the instructions on this recipe to make a protein.

If you were making a dessert, you could follow a recipe to make, for example, a chocolate cake. You could also take that same recipe and change one ingredient – say, use vanilla instead of chocolate icing – and now you have a very similar, but different cake. The RNA “recipe” used to make proteins (the “cake” in this analogy), can be modified in a similar way. This process of swapping ingredients is known as “RNA alternative splicing”. Using RNA alternative splicing, a cell can make many different types of proteins that are similar but have different (and important!) functions.

I study how RNA alternative splicing contributes to normal human development and, when this RNA splicing goes awry, how the production of “bad recipes” causes human disease.

What public benefit do you hope will come from your work?
Many human diseases, including most cancers, are characterized by major defects in RNA alternative splicing, and a single diseased cell can produce thousands of abnormal RNA molecules. If we can identify how each of these RNA molecules contributes to patient symptoms, we can correct them using a technology called “antisense oligonucleotides.” However, because so many abnormal RNAs are expressed in any given disease state, it is hard to search through them all. My work is focused on developing better tools to find the needle in the haystack and, once we find it, correct it.

What difference has the Washington Research Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship made to your work?
I am very energetic, I have LOTS of ideas, and I eventually want to run my own independent research lab. This combination of traits means that there are frequently research directions that I want to pursue independent of my primary mentor. The WRF Postdoctoral Fellowship makes this possible. Furthermore, funding from the WRF has opened many doors for me to share my work with the scientific community.

Dr. Levi Todd

University of Washington Department of Biological Structure

What would you like people to know about you?
I am a neurobiologist that is fascinated by regeneration and why it doesn’t occur in the nervous system. I am privileged that I can pursue my ideas for a living and be surrounded by such a vibrant intellectual community. I try to spend my free time in the incredible nature we have in the Pacific Northwest.

How do you describe your research to colleagues?
Zebrafish possesses a remarkable capacity to regenerate an entire functional retina after injury. This regeneration is accomplished by a retinal glial cell called Müller glia. Müller glia exist in all vertebrate species, but their regenerative potential has been lost in the mammalian retina. Our lab has recently shown that transgenically overexpressing proneural transcription factors in Müller glia allows for functional regeneration of neurons in damaged adult mouse retina. My research is further investigating the molecular and cell-signaling mechanisms to improve Müller glia-mediated retinal regeneration. For my WRF project, I am investigating how microglia, the innate immune cell of the retina, impacts the neurogenesis that occurs during regeneration.

How do you describe your research to non-scientists?
The central nervous system in mammalian species lacks the regenerative capacity seen in fish and amphibians. The loss of neurons in the mammalian brain, spinal cord, and retina is permanent. We study the retina, where loss of neurons underlies the majority of vision threatening diseases like macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy, and glaucoma. Using lessons from how fish regenerate their retinas we have recently developed strategies that allow functional regeneration of neurons in the mammalian retina. However, limitations still exist and not enough neurons are regenerated to restore lost vision. One of the barriers to regeneration could be the inflammation that accompanies retinal injury and disease. My projects focus on how to manipulate the retinal immune system to allow better neuronal regeneration to occur after cell loss.

What public benefit do you hope will come from your work?
Overall, I think this work will help better guide strategies towards our ultimate goal of replacing neurons that are lost to retinal disease. In the retina, we are investigating regeneration from an endogenous cellular source, but other regenerative approaches involving viral gene therapy and stem cell transplantation also heavily involve an inflammatory response. Therefore, I hope the mechanisms I uncover as to how the innate immune system impacts progenitor proliferation, neurogenesis, and neural survival will be applicable to a broad range of regenerative strategies. I also think lessons learned in the retina will be useful to other CNS structures like brain and spinal cord.

What difference has the Washington Research Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship made to your work?
The WRF fellowship provides a unique opportunity to early postdoctoral fellows at a stage where we have big ideas with not much preliminary data. This allows us a creative freedom to chase scientific projects that may have been difficult to pursue under the traditional grant funding agencies. I am excited to be part of the WRF team as I believe their approach to funding leads to projects with potential for the largest scientific advances.

Dr. Jue Wang

University of Washington Department of Chemical Engineering

What would you like people to know about you?
I have wide-ranging interests, both in and out of science. In my research, I’m most excited by applications to sustainability, but also by basic science that analyzes the optimality of biological systems to try and figure out ways they can be engineered to have more useful properties.

How do you describe your research to colleagues?
I am engineering enzymes to create a new metabolic pathway for assimilating formate in microbes. The hope is that this will allow biofuel-producing organisms to utilize formate, which is a feedstock that can be generated readily from carbon dioxide and electricity.

How do you describe your research to non-scientists?
I’m creating new microbes that can produce biofuels from formic acid in a carbon-neutral process. Formic acid can be made from carbon dioxide using electricity as an energy source. Therefore, the microbes I create could provide a new source of liquid fuels that does not require sugars from agricultural crops. Instead, this process could use renewable energy and sequester CO2 directly from the atmosphere. The underlying technology I develop could also have applications in improving crop yield.

What public benefit do you hope will come from your work?
I hope that my research will eventually contribute to two of our greatest societal challenges: mitigating climate change and improving crop yields.

What difference has the Washington Research Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship made to your work?
It has allowed me to travel and learn from experts in my field around the world. The additional research funds it provides allows me to perform more experiments to try more hypotheses to give me more chances for success in my research.

Dr. Ali Weber

University of Washington Department of Biology

What would you like people to know about you?
I first became interested in neuroscience in high school, fascinated by the biological processes that give rise to our perceptions, thoughts, and actions. As I continue in my career, I often return to this sense of wonderment at the intricacy of biological systems. I am excited about sharing this appreciation with others — scientists and non-scientists alike — and will make outreach and mentoring priorities in my career. When I’m not sitting in front of a computer or experimental rig, I like to mountain bike, backpack, and play volleyball.

How do you describe your research to colleagues?
The primary question that motivates me is: how do organisms make efficient use of limited information to perform complex tasks? Insects are excellent model systems to investigate sparse and efficient sensing due to their small nervous systems and experimental tractability. Taking the hawkmoth as a model system, I study how information from a small number of mechanoreceptors on the wings are used in flight control. I use a combination of experimental and computational techniques to study how these sensors respond during flight and how one might optimally array a set of these sensors to best provide feedback during flight. This work will not only contribute to our understanding of receptor properties used for guiding flight in a biological system, but it also advances methods in sparse sensing, particularly for spatio-temporal inputs, which will inform the development of a variety of technologies.

How do you describe your research to non-scientists?
I’m interested in how animals sense the world around them and use this information to guide behavior. In general, an animal can only obtain limited information about its surroundings. (We can only hear a limited range of sound frequencies, for example.) I hope to understand which features of the environment an animal’s limited budget of sensory resources is devoted to, and why this might be beneficial for the animal’s survival. I study these questions in the moth because it uses a relatively small number of sensors in the wing to help control its flight. My work not only gives us insight into biological systems, but will help guide the development of technologies where sensors must be efficiently allocated, particularly in engineered flight systems.

What public benefit do you hope will come from your work?
I hope that the knowledge generated from this project will guide the development of new nature-inspired technologies, not only in flight systems but also in other applications, such as medical imaging or autonomous navigation, that rely on efficient computation.

What difference has the Washington Research Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship made to your work?
The WRF Postdoc Fellowship allows me to work in an outstanding computational neuroscience community at the University of Washington and further affords me the freedom to work with experts across several disciplines. The Fellowship will also allow me to attend several conferences, where I will be able to showcase the work of myself and my collaborators to a larger community. I also hope that affiliation with WRF will help me build connections and share ideas with a local community of innovators who are similarly interested in translating research insights into real-world applications.

Dr. Rachel Welicky

University of Washington School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences

What would you like people to know about you?
I’m a marine ecologist and am passionate about understanding the dynamics of predator–prey interactions in the context of a changing ocean. Specifically, I look at interactions between fish and their parasites. This passion has allowed me to work in numerous marine systems in the Caribbean, Philippines, South Africa, and now Washington State.

How do you describe your research to colleagues?
To describe long-term change in the economic and nutritional value of fishes, I will quantify the trophic downgrading of Puget Sound fishes over the past 100 years. In addition to better understanding long-term change in Puget Sound fish populations, this study will resolve one of the most significant issues limiting the use of compound specific stable isotope analysis (CSIA) on preserved specimens, thereby making available for CSIA the >1 billion liquid-preserved specimens stored in natural history collections globally.

How do you describe your research to non-scientists?
The diet of fish-eating fish has changed as human harvest of fish has intensified. When the diets of fish change, the nutritional value people can obtain from those fish likely changes, too. I am measuring how fish diet and nutritional value has changed over the past century by conducting chemical analyses on specimens held in North America’s largest ichthyology collection, at the University of Washington’s Burke Museum.

What public benefit do you hope will come from your work?
This research will aid in reshaping current management practices of commercial fishes, providing a historical baseline for managers to compare against current stocks, and thus providing a means to improve the quality and sustainability of one of the most important food resources of the Pacific Northwest.

What difference has the Washington Research Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship made to your work?
The methods used in this study are among the most advanced in the field of stable isotope analysis and also require a significant amount of time to complete. The Washington Research Foundation’s network of experts and long-term financial assistance will allow this project to successfully come to fruition.


2018 Fellows

Dr. Connor Bischak, University of Washington Department of Chemistry
Dr. Matthew Crane, University of Washington Department of Chemistry
Dr. Jesse Erasmus, University of Washington Department of Microbiology
Dr. Max Friedfeld, University of Washington Department of Chemistry
Dr. Kameron Decker Harris, University of Washington School of Computer Science and Engineering
Dr. Luke Parsons, University of Washington Department of Atmospheric Sciences
Dr. Daniel Reeves, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center
Dr. Mary Regier, University of Washington Department of Bioengineering
Dr. Ian Richardson, Washington State University School of Mechanical and Materials Engineering
Dr. Emma Schmidgall, University of Washington Department of Physics


 

Dr. Connor Bischak

University of Washington Department of Chemistry

What would you like people to know about you?
I am a physical chemist interested in developing new technologies for interfacing biological systems and human-made electronics. I use microscopic observations to guide optimization of interfaces between biological systems and human-made electronics.

How do you describe your research to colleagues?
I am developing new devices that transduce small changes in ion concentration to large charges in electrical current for applications in biosensing and bioelectronics interfaces. Using insights gained from imaging these materials at very small length scales, I establish new design principles that lead to more efficient devices. For example, by investigating and then optimizing ion and electronic transport at small length scales, we can boost overall device efficiency and speed.

How do you describe your research to non-scientists?
There is a language barrier between how biological systems communicate and how human-made electronics transfer information that prevents these two disparate systems from communicating efficiently. Overcoming this language barrier requires new technologies that translate biological signals into electronic outputs (and vice versa) with high efficiency and speed. My work focuses on developing new interface technologies that improve communications between biological systems and human-made electronics.

What public benefit do you hope will come from your work?
The new interface platform that we are developing should help improve many technologies that rely on interfacing biological systems and human-made electronics, such as biosensing, artificial limbs, and implantable devices.

What difference has the Washington Research Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship made to your work?
The WRF Postdoctoral Fellowship grants me the freedom to pursue my own interests, while providing the resources and guidance to help translate discoveries made in a research lab into viable commercial products that benefit the public.

Dr. Matthew Crane

University of Washington Department of Chemistry

What would you like people to know about you?
Since I was a kid, I’ve been fascinated by puzzles and the satisfaction of solving them. Science has some hard puzzles, and I’m constantly enticed by the strange phenomena that we observe. I also firmly believe that science and technology have a powerful role in producing global equity, and I’m excited to be a part of that revolution. When I’m not aligning optics in a basement, I’m a huge music nerd who loves hiking. I started playing in bands in high school, and I’ve managed to keep it up as a postdoc.

How do you describe your research to colleagues?
Over the past few decades, colloidal nanomaterials syntheses have enabled the production of nanomaterials with arbitrary compositions, geometries, and dopants distributions. However, deterministically assembling colloidal nanomaterials into devices remains challenging. When we want to attach nanoparticles, we’re restricted to lithography, which has severe limitations in materials properties. In my research, I’m building an optical printer that uses radiation pressure from lasers to assemble nanoparticles onto a surface. Because nanoparticles have size-dependent properties, using light enables simultaneous size selection during printing. I will use an optical printer to create single nanowire transistors and waveguides with single nanoparticles for quantum computing.

How do you describe your research to non-scientists?
While we’ve made huge strides in creating nanomaterials, we’ve don’t have many great ways of assembling these into individual devices—it’s pretty hard to pick up a nanocrystal 10,000 times thinner than your hair and put it next to another one! For example, if you wanted to make a transistor out of a single nanowire, right now, you’d have to synthesize billions of nanowires in a solution, drop them onto a surface, find the right one, and then deposit custom electrodes on top of it. It’s not easy. I’m developing scalable techniques to assemble individual nanomaterials into devices with light by building a 3D printer for nanomaterials. It turns out that highly focused light can induce pressure on nanomaterials, which offers the ability to assemble individual nanomaterials into devices. I’m building a tool to leverage that effect to assemble nanomaterials into arbitrary structures.

What public benefit do you hope will come from your work?
For years, we’ve heard stories about the wild possibilities of nanotechnology. With my research, I want to make these possibilities a reality, so that we can see quantum computing or nanoparticle computing within 10 years.

What difference has the Washington Research Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship made to your work?
In short, the WRF Postdoctoral Fellowship made my research possible. Big, long-term projects like this research take time to troubleshoot and develop. In a climate of questionable extended funding, the WRF offers a unique chance—I couldn’t find any other three-year fellowships—to take a shot at big ideas.

Dr. Jesse Erasmus

University of Washington Department of Microbiology

What would you like people to know about you?
I am a virologist interested in developing new technologies to counter emerging infectious diseases as well as training the next generation of scientists.

How do you describe your research to colleagues?
I study mechanisms of virus replication across diverse hosts and develop platform technologies that exploit these various mechanisms to express a protein of interest and drive distinct immune responses to that protein. This involves probing the virus-host interface to understand the relationship between viral factors and host responses so that we can utilize the former to shape the latter in developing interventions.

How do you describe your research to non-scientists?
I am trying to develop a variety of tools that we in the research community can use to rapidly respond to outbreaks of emerging diseases. Part of that response is rapid identification of the disease-causing agent by a variety of diagnostic strategies as well as halting transmission by deploying vaccines and therapeutics.

What public benefit do you hope will come from your work?
I hope to establish a workflow and the necessary tools to enable rapid response to emerging infectious diseases. In the process, I aim to develop vaccines and diagnostics for many established diseases in preparation for those yet to come.

What difference has the Washington Research Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship made to your work?
The WRF Postdoctoral Fellowship has enabled me to pursue ideas distinct from my mentors and establish a research program that is complementary to the mission of my institute. Additionally, the network of outstanding scientists associated with the WRF is proving to be invaluable.

Dr. Max Friedfeld

University of Washington Department of Chemistry

What would you like people to know about you?

My name is Max and I’m a chemist studying nanomaterials using molecular, mechanistic tools. I grew up in Virginia and have lived in Seattle since 2016. I’m also a musician and play the trumpet with Rainbow City Performing Arts in Seattle. I’m passionate about making STEM fields more inclusive and accessible to more people, especially for early career researchers. I’m a proud member of UAW 4121, the union representing Academic Student Employees and Postdocs at UW.

How do you describe your research to colleagues?
I study the mechanism of nanoparticle nucleation and growth in the context of developing luminescent nanomaterials for display applications. Specifically, various III-V semiconducting nanomaterials that are used in new color-pure displays have been shown to demonstrate non-classical pathways for particle nucleation and growth. By learning more about these processes, I hope to develop better strategies for synthesizing high-performance nanomaterials for these applications.

How do you describe your research to non-scientists?

In our everyday world, the physical properties of materials (color, melting point, conductivity, etc) are not dependent on the size or quantity of the material. However, when size dimensions of semiconducting material are reduced to the nanometer scale, many physical properties become dependent on the size of these so-called nano-materials. These phenomena are used for many purposes and I’m trying to control what color these materials emit by understanding how the materials assemble themselves at the atomic and molecular level. This will lead to more efficient, environmentally benign, and color-pure displays in TVs, computers and phones.

What public benefit do you hope will come from your work?

Americans today spend over 8 hours a day in front of screens, a statistic that has certainly increased since the covid-19 pandemic. Ensuring that TVs and monitors are energy efficient, are composed of environmentally non-toxic materials, and can be recycled back into component parts continues to be an important aspect to sustainability in the 21st century. Future display technologies will involve thinner and flexible displays that display all colors visible to the human eye and nanomaterials will play a critical role in these devices. Furthermore, the fundamental principles of nanoparticle nucleation and growth can be applied across a wide range.

What difference has the Washington Research Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship made to your work?
With my WRF fellowship, I’ve had the opportunity to engage in high-risk, high-reward research that is not tied to normal funding cycles. As part of this research, I’ve had the opportunity to contribute to multiple collaborations at the University of Washington that have studied ultra-fast photophysical properties of these materials and integrated these materials into photonic devices for quantum computing applications. I’ve also had the opportunity to mentor graduate and undergraduate scientists and have presented my work to policy makers and legislators. This work has also resulted in multiple patent filings and peer-reviewed publications, including open access journals. I’m incredibly grateful to the Washington Research Foundation for the opportunity to do this research and contribute to the scientific community in the state of Washington.

Dr. Kameron Decker Harris

University of Washington School of Computer Science and Engineering

What would you like people to know about you?
I grew up in Vermont and lived there until moving to Seattle. That’s besides a year and a half spent in Chile where I worked on bus transportation and enjoyed exploring the Andes. I love the outdoors, and Washington has incredible mountains.

How do you describe your research to colleagues?
I study how neuron network structure determines brain function. Artificial neural networks, originally inspired by the brain, are proving to be incredibly powerful tools for machine learning. However, we still know very little about why they work so well. On the other hand, our brains are the most complex known objects in the universe and much more flexible learning machines than any extant artificial network. We have a lot to learn from biology that can inform our algorithms, while we also rely on data analysis algorithms to understand modern neuroscience experiments.

How do you describe your research to non-scientists?
I use computers to study how the brain works. This means analyzing data to explain what’s going on in experiments as well as theories to explain why the neurons do what they do. Math is important, because it’s the language of information, and our brains are information processing machines.

What public benefit do you hope will come from your work?
There will be many advances in machine intelligence that come from better understanding of the brain, and machine learning algorithms are everywhere these days. On the medical side, brain-machine interface devices are part of an emerging set of therapies for conditions such as paralysis and Parkinson’s disease. We need more understanding to implement these therapies in the best way possible.

What difference has the Washington Research Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship made to your work?
It’s given me the opportunity to stay in Seattle, an area I love, and the freedom to pursue my own research agenda.

Dr. Luke Parsons

University of Washington Department of Atmospheric Sciences

What would you like people to know about you?
I am a climate researcher, landscape photographer, and outdoor enthusiast. I hope my research will advance understanding related to the sources and impacts of climate variability and change.

How do you describe your research to colleagues?
I am a climate dynamicist. Specifically, I use instrumental, paleoclimate, and the latest climate model data to study the sources and impacts of climate variability at annual to century timescales. I am currently using data assimilation to combine paleoclimate and climate model data to study climate variability and its associated dynamics during the last millennium.

How do you describe your research to non-scientists?
I am interested in how internal climate variations will combine with global warming to impact humans and the environment. I hope my research will help us understand more about how future climate change will unfold: will future warming occur relatively smoothly, like a ramp, or in fits and starts, like an uneven staircase? Furthermore, how will warming and climate variability combine to impact communities and ecosystems?

What public benefit do you hope will come from your work?
I plan to study how warming and internal climate variations will combine to affect coastal ecosystems and fisheries. Specifically, I am interested in how climate change will affect toxic Harmful Algal Blooms (HAB), which can cause widespread, costly fisheries closures. Recent research suggests that warming of the ocean surface has already expanded the niche of toxic HABs. Unusually warm temperatures off the U.S. west coast in 2015 set the stage for a toxic HAB that forced closures of the commercial dungeness crab fisheries that led to revenue losses of more than $90 million. My research will focus on answering how regional climate variability will combine with global climate change to impact future toxic algal blooms and fisheries.

What difference has the Washington Research Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship made to your work?
The WRF Postdoctoral Fellowship is allowing me to work with a world-renowned group of researchers at the University of Washington and the NOAA Northwest Fisheries. Specifically, the Fellowship is allowing me to learn new data assimilation techniques and giving me the opportunity to apply my climate research background to study how climate variability and change will affect the Pacific Northwest.

Dr. Daniel Reeves

Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center

What would you like people to know about you?
I’m a physicist working at the Fred Hutch now as a mathematical biologist. I’m constantly inspired by the complexity of host-pathogen dynamics and how a better understanding of our own immune systems might help end the AIDS epidemic.

How do you describe your research to colleagues?
Our group develops mathematical models of HIV in the context of cure. We are particularly interested in the HIV reservoir, and how proliferation of latently infected cells contributes to persistence of the virus during antiretroviral therapy. I am personally working on the interface of modeling and phylodynamics to make use of available HIV sequence and viral dynamic data simultaneously.

How do you describe your research to non-scientists?
I’m a physicist and I use mathematics to describe how the HIV virus grows and evolves within the human body. We hope to understand the complex interplay between the human immune system and the virus and our ultimate goal is to eliminate the virus and develop a cure.

What public benefit do you hope will come from your work?
The HIV/AIDS epidemic still affects millions around the globe. While antiretroviral therapy can suppress the virus, not all persons infected with HIV can tolerate, afford, or access this transformative medication. A cure for HIV is still desperately needed to decrease the global burden of AIDS, and we hope our research will contribute directly to design of the optimal HIV cure or prevention strategy.

What difference has the Washington Research Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship made to your work?
The WRF Fellowship provides me an unparalleled opportunity to grow my research program in Seattle. By allowing me to work independently and leverage my strong local collaborative network, the WRF gives me the time to collect preliminary data that may grow into future grant proposals and an independent investigator position.

Dr. Mary Regier

University of Washington Department of Bioengineering

What would you like people to know about you?
I am a bioengineer interested in providing the biomedical community with new ways of understanding the complex interactions amongst cells and between cells and their environment. My focus is in developing technologies that are both biologically powerful and technically simple and robust.

How do you describe your research to colleagues?
My research is aimed at providing the research community with tools for precisely controlling the soluble factors around cells spatially and temporally. The methods I am developing are designed to enable studies of how populations of cells sense and respond to the types of signal patterns that govern physiological processes in the body. For example, I am working to use these tools to understand how stem cells interpret signals that control development, specifically morphogen signal gradients.

How do you describe your research to non-scientists?
My goal is to be able to bridge the differences in complexity between how we study cells in the laboratory and how cells experience their environment in the body. I am focusing on the dissolved signals that cells use to communicate with each other as the signals spread from cell to cell in tissues. Patterns of these signals coordinate cell functions so that cells can work together to perform complex processes like embryonic development, wound healing, and day-to-day tissue maintenance. The technologies I am developing will allow scientists to control and study signal patterns in the lab so that we can better understand how cells communicate and how we can help direct cells during disease and healing.

What public benefit do you hope will come from your work?
My hope is that my research will improve our ability to understand how cells communicate. It is my goal to use this understanding and the ability to control signal patterns to expand our capabilities for directing cell functions. Achieving these goals will allow us to use cells’ innate abilities to signal and respond to each other for applications like tissue engineering and treatment of diseases affecting cell-to-cell communication.

What difference has the Washington Research Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship made to your work?
This Fellowship has allowed me to focus on this research, to share my work, and to learn more about making an idea into a product that others can use and benefit from.

Dr. Ian Richardson

Washington State University School of Mechanical and Materials Engineering

What would you like people to know about you?
As a mechanical engineer and entrepreneur at Washington State University, I am working to expand the use of clean, renewable hydrogen in the state of Washington. Originally from the Pacific Northwest, I enjoy all that this area has to offer including camping, hiking, and snowboarding.

How do you describe your research to colleagues?
I am developing a 3D-printed, lightweight liquid-hydrogen fuel tank for use in Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs). This tank incorporates the heat exchanger into the tank walls to reduce insulation and minimize tank mass. My research includes evaluation of suitable tank materials and permeation barriers, and the development of the liquid-hydrogen fueling system required to refuel these tanks.

How do you describe your research to non-scientists?
I am developing a lightweight liquid-hydrogen fuel tank to increase the reliability and flight times of drones. By pairing this hydrogen tank with a fuel cell, these systems can provide several hours of electricity to power fixed-wing and multirotor aircrafts enabling the use of drones for applications like package delivery, gas and power line inspections, forest fire monitoring, etc.

What public benefit do you hope will come from your work?
The state of Washington has always been a world leader in energy production and storage. Through this work I hope to expand the use of clean hydrogen for the transportation sector to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels.

What difference has the Washington Research Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship made to your work?
The WRF Postdoctoral Fellowship has provided the opportunity to continue my research to promote hydrogen as a leading clean fuel. WRF also provides the expertise and resources necessary to commercialize my technologies to provide the largest benefit to the region.

Dr. Emma Schmidgall

University of Washington Department of Physics

What would you like people to know about you?
I’m from Minneapolis, went to school in California, England, and Israel, and for the last two years I’ve been living in Seattle. I love experimental physics because it’s got the best toys, like lasers and liquid nitrogen. In my spare time, I play violin in the Kirkland Civic Orchestra, ski, and run.

How do you describe your research to colleagues?
The main problem in building a functional quantum computer is scalability. We know how to make one qubit, but how do we link together enough qubits to build a scalable computer? In several platforms, the problems are photon loss and low emission rates. We are tackling this by using integrated photonic chips to enhance the emission rate and route/process the light more efficiently on-chip. Our particular qubit system is the nitrogen vacancy center in diamond, but this type of integrated photonics work is currently of interest in several qubit platforms.

How do you describe your research to non-scientists?
I’m trying to build a quantum computer. It doesn’t work yet because we only have one bit, but we’re working on that part now.

What public benefit do you hope will come from your work?
Scalable, commercial quantum computation within the next 10 years. Barring that, I’d like to see photonics fabrication, even in odd materials, as easy as silicon electronics fabrication.

What difference has the Washington Research Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship made to your work?
Networking with other scientists and innovators in the greater Seattle area has so far been a fantastic component of the Fellowship.