2024 Fellows

Dr. Laurel Anderson, University of Washington Department of Physics
Dr. Rosevalentine Bosire, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center Basic Sciences Division
Dr. Riddhiman Garge, University of Washington Department of Genome Sciences
Dr. Camilo Gómez-Garzón, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center Human Biology Division
Dr. Siobhan O’Brien, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center Human Biology Division
Dr. Marina Pavlou, University of Washington Department of Biological Structure
Dr. Robert Ragotte, University of Washington Department of Biochemistry
Dr. Emmajay Sutherland, University of Washington Department of Chemistry
Dr. Carlee Toddes, University of Washington Department of Biological Structure
Dr. Hamadoun Touré, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center Basic Sciences Division
Dr. Thamiya Vasanthakumar, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center Basic Sciences Division
Dr. Andrew Wescott, University of Washington School of Medicine
Dr. Alex Whitebirch, University of Washington Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences
Dr. Emma Wrenn, Seattle Children’s Research Institute Ben Towne Center for Childhood Cancer Research
Dr. Kyle Yoshida, Washington State University School of Mechanical and Materials Engineering
 

Dr. Laurel Anderson

University of Washington Department of Physics

What would you like people to know about you?
Although my initial interest in physics came through astronomy, I soon became fascinated with the strangeness of quantum mechanics. The fact that we can describe the individual behavior of electrons pretty well, but a group of electrons can have new emergent properties like superconductivity is particularly exciting to me. I am excited about doing experimental condensed-matter physics research and am constantly seeking to learn more about recent developments in my field. When I’m not in the lab, I love spending time skiing, hiking, and biking in the mountains of my home state of Utah and my new home in Washington.

How do you describe your research to colleagues?
We are developing new scanning probe techniques to study moiré van der Waals materials, such as magic-angle twisted bilayer graphene. Our first objective is to explore the role of Coulomb screening on superconductivity in these systems. Using a scanning probe with a few-micron diameter metallic plane on the end, which we make parallel to a moiré heterostructure, we can determine the twist angle in a local region, then increase the screening of Coulomb interactions in that region by lowering the probe toward the device. This approach has the advantages of dynamically tuning the Coulomb interaction strength and mitigating the effects of local disorder. We plan to extend our capabilities to include additional techniques such as scanning capacitance microscopy and incorporation of more complex tip geometries to probe different aspects of the unusual quantum states that can arise in these materials.

How do you describe your research to non-scientists?
Van der Waals materials consist of atomically-thin, 2D crystal planes that are weakly bound together by van der Waals forces. (These forces are how geckos can walk up smooth glass!) A mismatch in the structures of two crystal layers or small twist angle between them can generate a moiré superlattice, which creates a new energy landscape for the electrons in this new “moiré material.” This can lead to the emergence of superconductivity and other unusual quantum states. We are developing new methods of locally affecting and measuring the properties of moiré materials using a variety of probes that can be moved around to various positions near the surface of the material at ultralow temperatures, which will help us figure out the mechanisms behind their unique properties.

What public benefit do you hope will come from your work?
Developing new materials will be key to solving the technological challenges of the future, with the potential to improve ultra-small electronic circuits, energy efficiency, and computing. However, there are many unanswered questions about why desired properties, like superconductivity, arise in particular materials. Van der Waals materials and the structures made by combining them are an ideal testbed for studying the fundamental relationship between material structure and electronic behavior thanks to their easy tunability with electric and magnetic fields, the ability to combine materials with diverse properties with minimal strain, and the additional “twist” degree of freedom that allows the generation of moiré superlattices. I hope our research will improve our understanding of how unusual electronic behavior is generated in these materials, and that this knowledge will help inform the design of a new generation of quantum materials.

What difference has the Washington Research Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship made to your work?
Support from the WRF Postdoctoral Fellowship will enable me to focus my efforts on the ambitious technical and analytical challenges of my research project. We are building new experimental tools as well as exploring new frontiers of quantum materials physics, so it has been great to have the funding secured to pursue these goals. I am also looking forward to learning from the other WRF Fellows!

 

 

 

Dr. Camilo Gómez-Garzón

Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center Human Biology Division

What would you like people to know about you?
I fell in love with bacteria from the first moment I realized they existed. It is fascinating how these tiny organisms shape our lives. I have devoted my career to studying bacteria from diverse lenses. In my home country, Colombia, I focused my undergrad and master’s research on using bacteria for environmental causes, such as plague control and oil spill remediation. When I moved to the US to pursue my PhD studies, I started studying bacteria in the context of gastrointestinal diseases. Now, as a Latino and Hispanic researcher, I am still committed to understanding bacteria – currently in the context of cancer – but I am equally committed to making science more accessible to everybody, especially to people in historically minoritized communities. Particularly, I am interested in working towards science communication, education, and mentorship.

How do you describe your research to colleagues?
The relationship between the human microbiome and health is clear, although still controversial when it comes to cancer development. Infection with Helicobacter pylori is the main risk factor for stomach cancer worldwide; however, we still do not fully understand the factors governing this link. Increasing evidence suggests that infection with H. pylori may facilitate secondary colonization of the stomach in precancerous stages by species from the oral microbiome, which could accelerate cancer development in some patients. In my project, I will test this hypothesis by focusing on Fusobacterium nucleatum, a member of the oral microbiome with a demonstrated association and presence in colorectal cancer.

How do you describe your research to non-scientists?
The world we live in is full of microbes; they shape our lives in ways we do not fully understand. Microbes keep us alive, although some of them can make us sick. I am working on understanding one of those instances in which microbes may have a significant impact on our health: stomach cancer. Most cases of stomach cancer are attributable to infection with the bacterium Helicobacter pylori, but most people infected with H. pylori never develop cancer. This conundrum suggests there might be other factors determining the relationship between H. pylori and gastric cancer, including our diet, the environment we grow up in, and our genetics, among others. My project aims to define whether the bacteria that inhabit our mouth interact with H. pylori in the stomach and thus be involved in gastric cancer development too.

What public benefit do you hope will come from your work?
The relationship between bacteria and cancer is clear, yet its mechanism remains obscure. While the link between H. pylori and stomach cancer is well established – and the role of species of the oral microbiome in this link is increasingly apparent – several questions must be answered before being able to translate this knowledge into clinical settings. My work will offer insight into bacteria-driven gastric cancer, considering the role of the oral microbiome, particularly F. nucleatum, which is strongly associated with colorectal cancer. A more comprehensive understanding of the role bacteria have in cancer development is a missing piece in the development of better strategies for prevention, diagnosis, and treatment.

What difference has the Washington Research Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship made to your work?
The Washington Research Foundation (WRF) is truly committed to scientific development and cutting-edge research. The support from the WRF postdoctoral fellowship will be key in developing my research project, and thus in pursuing my career as an independent scientist while contributing to society. It is indeed my goal as a researcher to pay forward through my research and mentorship to society. The WRF will not only make this possible, but it will allow me to do so within an enriching, interdisciplinary, and thought-provoking environment made of a network of fellows, entrepreneurs, and professionals, making this fellowship an incubator for future cutting-edge researcher generations.

 

 

 

Dr. Siobhan O'Brien

Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center Human Biology Division

What would you like people to know about you?
I grew up on Vancouver Island in British Columbia, Canada, and first discovered my love for biology in high school, when we learned about cells for the very first time. Then, and now, it fascinates me that such intricate systems control trillions of cells in concert, with many of these systems barely understood. Throughout my undergraduate studies, I was fortunate to participate in a co-operative education program that allowed me to meet and work with scientists who worked full-time as researchers. These experiences, along with my drive to understand the intricacies of cell biology, are what drew me to pursue research as a career, and enter graduate school. I first completed my Masters degree in Microbiology and Immunology at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia where I studied the role of the oncogenic virus KSHV in manipulating cellular signaling networks to drive tumour progression. I then joined Dr. Stephane Angers’ lab at the University of Toronto to employ functional genomics techniques to identify novel treatment strategies for cancers harbouring mutations in the tumour suppressor gene FBXW7, where I identified two novel treatment strategies centered around dysregulated cell cycle progression in FBXW7-mutated cancers. This work allowed me to delve even deeper into the signaling networks that are altered in cancer that provide induced vulnerabilities.

In my PhD work, I identified two novel inhibitors for the treatment of cancers with mutations in the commonly-mutated tumour suppressor gene FBXW7, using inhibitors at various stages of clinical and preclinical development. I joined Fred Hutch to work with Dr. Alice Berger in January 2023, and through the support of the WRF, will continue to build a research focus around leveraging functional genomics tools to identify novel treatment targets in lung cancer.

How do you describe your research to colleagues?
My work focuses on identifying and validating new drug targets in lung cancer, by exploiting the synthetic lethality observed among paralogous genes. Gene paralogs are highly similar, and often share functional redundancy, insulating the human genome to mutations that render one paralog or the other non-functional. In cases where one paralog gene is lost through mutation or epigenetic suppression, cells rely heavily on the remaining in-tact paralog, generating a targetable vulnerability in these specific genetic instances. Using patient-derived genomic and transcriptomic data, I will nominate a subset of paralog genes that demonstrate frequent inactivation in lung cancer, enhancing the dependency of the remaining paralog. These candidate gene pairs will then be moved forward for functional validation of synthetic lethality, and their utility as novel drug targets will be explored through targeted degradation assays, and use of tool inhibitors where available.

How do you describe your research to non-scientists?
Cancer is a disease caused by damaging changes to the genetic code in a cell. This genetic change, or mutation, then influences the ability of the cells to grow – both through bypassing normal control mechanisms that work to restrain cells from growing out of control, as well as by hiding from the immune system which regularly clears cells that have accrued damage. Through large scale genetic sequencing efforts of thousands of patients, a vast number of mutations have been identified across many cancer types, providing a blueprint for us to understand exactly what changes in the genetic code are influencing the progression of cancer. Not only does this information provide a map of the genetic cause behind many cancers, it also highlights cancer-specific vulnerabilities that we can exploit to develop new treatments for patients, as many mutations that occur through cancer development change the ability of a cell to respond to stress. My work will primarily focus on lung cancer, the leading cause of cancer-related death in the US.

What public benefit do you hope will come from your work?
Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer-related death in the US, with over 120,000 people estimated to die from this disease in 2024. Though major developments in lung cancer specific treatment options have occurred over the last decade, many patients do not respond to these therapies, or have cancer that reoccurs shortly following treatment, resistant to these first in class therapies. By identifying novel therapeutic targets, we hope to nominate candidates for further preclinical and clinical development, with the long-term goal of improving therapies accessible to patients in the clinic.

What difference has the Washington Research Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship made to your work?
With the support of the Washington Research Foundation, I can ask these challenging but important questions about the future treatment landscape in lung cancer. Through this fellowship, very early-stage target identification and preclinical study is possible and provides an opportunity for me to expand my skillset outside of functional genomics work. Further, through the supportive environment of the WRF and all the fellows involved in the program, I will have the opportunity to network and learn from my colleagues across a wide range of disciplines, strengthening my training as a postdoctoral fellow.

 

 

 

Dr. Marina Pavlou

University of Washington Department of Biological Structure

What would you like people to know about you?
I come from Cyprus, a beautiful island in the Eastern Mediterranean, and I became the first member of my family to obtain a doctorate degree thanks to the unwavering support of my parents. To pursue a career in science I became a student of various schools of thought and scientific conduct across different systems; in the UK, Germany and the US. I always intended for my work to serve my community, which is why I pursue research questions that combine biomedicine with biotechnology in order to maximize the potential for translation. After obtaining a foundation in molecular biology, I was introduced to the concept of gene therapy; I was immediately excited by this approach and have been enthralled by its potential ever since. Gene therapy targets the genetic foundation of a disease and uses engineered viruses as vehicles to deliver customized cargo into human cells. The ingenuity of this strategy is that viruses are stripped from their pathogenic elements and exploited for their natural ability to infect human cells with great efficiency. Even more exciting is the fact that the genetic cargo they deliver can be absolutely anything, giving us the ability to kill a cell, revive a cell, or convince a cell to change completely. During my postdoc, I am using this strategy to regenerate neural tissue from within, by delivering a customized genetic cargo to cells that can replenish lost neurons in adult mammals.

How do you describe your research to colleagues?
I use the same language to describe my work to everyone; the simpler the better.

How do you describe your research to non-scientists?
Humans, unlike other species, are unable to regenerate neurons after injury or disease, which means we suffer permanent loss in our cognitive and sensory abilities. One of the most detrimental sensory losses the majority of us suffer due to disease or aging, is loss of vision. My work aims to deliver a regenerative gene therapy that can reinstate neurogenesis in our retina, in order to recover lost neurons and ultimately, recover vision.

What public benefit do you hope will come from your work?
I envision that everything I learn from this work can benefit our efforts to develop effective therapies for neurodegenerative diseases.

What difference has the Washington Research Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship made to your work?
Obtaining this WRF fellowship is a significant milestone for me, as it embodies my ability to secure funds for my own research, especially from an organization that finances technological innovation. A particularly useful aspect is that funding is granted for three years, which I find is a necessary timeframe that accounts for troubleshooting and adaptations in order to complete a scientific quest. What sets this fellowship apart for me is that WRF invests in people and their ideas for startups, which means as a WRF fellow I will have access to a network that teaches me how to make my science resonate with the public and prime my future endeavor of launching my own company.

 

 

 

Dr. Emmajay Sutherland

University of Washington Department of Chemistry

What would you like people to know about you?
I am a first-generation university graduate from a small town in the central belt of Scotland. I achieved my Master’s degree in chemistry with industrial experience, however I applied to study mathematics initially. I realized I had a great interest in performing experiments which led to a degree switch within one week of starting university. I then achieved my PhD in biology under the supervision of Dr Clarissa Melo Czekster where I switched fields again to biochemistry and enzymology. Now, mentored by Professor Nicholas M. Riley, I am excited to delve into the world of glycobiology using mass spectrometry to uncover the importance of the glycoproteome in terms of disease progression.

How do you describe your research to colleagues?
Glycosylation functions in essential roles for human health and disease and yet remains poorly understood. I propose to establish a novel chemical glycobiology platform to capture the complex features of glycosylation directly from the cell surface. My research will begin by designing and synthesizing chemical probes for selective enrichment of glycoconjugates, combined with the development of mass spectrometry-based glycoproteomics methods for better characterization of these complex forms. Eventually, I hope to generate a library containing glycan fingerprints from a range of cell types depicting the progression of disease in different tissue.

How do you describe your research to non-scientists?
Glycosylation is a process where sugar molecules (glycans) get attached to proteins, forming glycoproteins. These sugar tags play crucial roles in helping proteins fold correctly, guiding them to the right places in the cell, and even influencing how cells communicate with each other. My research aims to understand how these sugar tags change as disease progresses throughout the human body and if there’s any particular signals we can detect to predict if a healthy cell will become diseased.

What public benefit do you hope will come from your work?
By developing chemical probes specifically designed to investigate glycoconjugates whilst retaining key interactions with the cell surface, I hope to reveal key details about the structure, function and regulation of this complex event. From there, a catalogue of highly selective probes with a robust established protocol could be commercialized for research purposes across the field. This establishment of a facile strategy to detect glycans upon the cell surface will mark the introduction of a novel technology that can be used by all for the advancement of therapeutics and diagnostics to enhance public health.

What difference has the Washington Research Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship made to your work?
Being granted the support of the Washington Research Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship has allowed me to embark on an ambitious project as an early career researcher. It will provide me with independence and the ability to pursue ideas to expand my current skillset as a scientist. Additionally, the opportunity to interact with such a diverse and inspiring cohort will allow for valuable research collaborations.

 

 

 

Dr. Carlee Toddes

University of Washington Department of Biological Structure

What would you like people to know about you?
I grew up outside of Philadelphia, PA. Despite being raised by scientists, I initially had little interest in science or pursuing advanced education. Struggling with learning disabilities and ADHD, formal education offered little reward. Instead, I immersed myself in literature, nurturing the ambition to become an author. Driven by the desire to write and understand complex characters in fiction, I began my college career by double majoring in English and Psychology. Unexpectedly, I became captivated by the study of human behavior—a revelation that shaped the next decade of my academic journey. My love of literature, and fascination with people and culture have contributed to my ability to develop creative and innovative scientific projects that probe the multidimensional contribution of individual and environmental variables on social behavioral expression. Additionally, my early experiences navigating education with learning disabilities strongly influences my passion for scientific inclusivity, scientific advocacy, and my mentorship strategies.

How do you describe your research to colleagues?
Chronic pain is both a sensory and affective disorder, causing functional and anatomical alterations in the neural circuits mediating pain and social cognition. My research aims to identify the molecular, cellular, and circuit-based mechanisms underlying pain modulation of volitional social behavior, and to reconceptualize therapeutic interventions through the exploitation of behaviorally activated endogenous neural ensembles.

How do you describe your research to non-scientists?
To engage or not to engage: that is the preeminent social question. Through my postdoc at the University of Washington, I study the neural circuits that underlie social interaction and how external factors, such as pain, influence the selection of social behaviors. In simpler terms, do you wave to an acquaintance at the coffee shop, or do you ignore them? Does the behavior you choose change if you are in pain? Consequently, I also explore how positive social interactions can aid in the alleviation of pain and how we can harness our natural reward system to treat disorders related to pain.

What public benefit do you hope will come from your work?
Pain is a prevalent reason for seeking medical attention, and chronic pain represents a significant and costly healthcare challenge for society. Considering the devastating impact of the opioid addiction epidemic and the ongoing challenge of finding effective treatments for pain, there is an urgent need to prioritize research focused on developing and promoting non-addictive and comprehensive therapeutic interventions. Through my research, I aim to identify a novel behavioral therapy for persistent pain and investigate its underlying mechanisms. This research may lead to the development of non-addictive pharmacological adjunct interventions and the identification of potential targets for neuromodulatory treatments of persistent pain and its comorbid disorders.

What difference has the Washington Research Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship made to your work?
The WRF Postdoctoral Fellowship has been a transformative milestone in my career, providing crucial financial support and opening doors to invaluable networking opportunities. The financial backing from the WRF has empowered me to pursue a highly ambitious research direction and explore innovative avenues that might have otherwise been limited. Moreover, the expansive network facilitated by the WRF has exposed me to exceptional fellows, scientists, and innovators. This exposure not only enhances my mentorship opportunities but also contributes to the development of my project and ideas, laying the foundation for impactful discoveries.

 

 

 

Dr. Hamadoun Touré

Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center Basic Sciences Division

What would you like people to know about you?
I was born and raised in Bamako (Mali). As a child, my first goal was to become a doctor, but as I have grown up, especially from high school onwards, I have realized that I am much more passionate about understanding the development of pathologies. I did my PhD at the Université Paris-Saclay, in Pr Jean-Louis Herrmann’s laboratory, on understanding the host factors that make people susceptible to infection by non-tuberculous mycobacteria in the context of cystic fibrosis. I have joined the lab of Dr. Meghan Koch at the Hutch for my postdoc training to make some fun science on how the acquisition of maternal factors through breastmilk contributes to shaping offspring immunity and to discover Seattle and the PNW region. Outside of science, I’m very active in a number of associations whose causes are close to my heart and I like to play soccer, test new food recipes and enjoy nature.

How do you describe your research to colleagues?
Maternal microchimerism cells (MMc) are poorly characterized, due to technological limitations that have precluded our ability to assess their tissular localization and function. My research aims to decipher the spatiotemporal dynamics, heterogeneity, and functional abilities of MMc T cells. To do so, I will use an integrative approach that combines single cell sequencing technologies, mechanistic studies, innovative imaging using an optimized murine model allowing to specifically track maternal-acquired T cells.

How do you describe your research to non-scientists?
In humans and other mammals, offspring acquire a critical immune cell termed ‘T cell’ from their mother both during pregnancy and via breastfeeding. These maternal-acquired cells persist for extended periods of time in offspring. T cells are known to be essential for defending against infection. Considering that infants are particularly vulnerable to infection due to their immature immune system, we propose that these maternal T cells may provide a novel and critical form of immune defense in early life. However, due to their rarity in the fetus and newborn, it has been extremely challenging to address this idea. My research aims to bridge this gap using cutting-edge technologies.

What public benefit do you hope will come from your work?
By increasing our understanding of the phenotypic and functional heterogeneity of maternally acquired T cells, I hope that my research will empower future work to harness maternal T cell function to optimize offspring defense, tissue repair, and immune regulation.

What difference has the Washington Research Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship made to your work?
The WRF Postdoctoral Fellowship represents a critical boost for me toward achieving my long-term goals. By providing a stable financial base for the next three years, WRF support will allow me to hit the ground running and make fast progress on my research. This will enable me to implement new scientific collaborations, and to set up a network of potential collaborators and mentors that will be instrumental toward achieving my goal of becoming an independent researcher.

 

 

 

Dr. Alex Whitebirch

University of Washington Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences

What would you like people to know about you?
My interest in the neurobiological underpinnings of behavior began with my childhood interest in nature and wildlife – how and why do animals behave the way they do? This fascination led me to pursue a doctorate in neurobiology and behavior at Columbia University, where I investigated epilepsy-associated alterations to hippocampal circuitry under the mentorship of Dr. Steve Siegelbaum. As a postdoctoral fellow, I wanted to explore the neural basis of motivated behavior and decision-making. To that end, I joined Dr. Susan Ferguson’s laboratory at the University of Washington where I investigate the neural circuits involved in drug addiction. Outside of the laboratory, I am passionate about nature and hiking throughout the Pacific Northwest. I spend my free time cooking and raising my son Elliot, who was born in February 2023.

How do you describe your research to colleagues?
There is a critical need for a better understanding of the neurobiological basis of addiction, which requires focused research on specific brain circuits that may be promising therapeutic targets. Through the use of an innovative behavioral paradigm and cutting-edge techniques including fiber photometry, my project will provide important insights into the physiological and behavioral impacts of chronic fentanyl-seeking and consumption on specific cell populations within prefrontal cortex circuits that have been implicated in addiction. I will also leverage chemogenetic approaches to interrogate specific cortico-subcortical circuits that may be involved in relapse to fentanyl-seeking in rats with a history of fentanyl self-administration.

How do you describe your research to non-scientists?
One of the greatest challenges facing individuals in recovery from substance use disorders (SUD) is the enduring vulnerability to relapse. We know that relapse to addictive behaviors can be triggered by exposure to environmental factors – for example, if someone with a history of SUD visits a place or sees a person they associate with their past drug use. My research aims to uncover the regions of the brain involved in these associations to better understand how relapse is triggered, and how we can better treat those individuals in recovery from a SUD.

What public benefit do you hope will come from your work?
Despite decades of focused efforts, opioid use disorder remains a pervasive public health crisis exacerbated by factors including the widespread availability of addictive prescription opioids and the proliferation of synthetic drugs such as fentanyl. A majority of individuals living with opioid use disorder will experience relapse, and opioid-involved overdoses have become increasingly common. Ultimately, it is my hope that my research will contribute to ongoing efforts to devise better treatments for people living with the devastating impacts of drug addiction.

What difference has the Washington Research Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship made to your work?
The Washington Research Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship is an incredible source of support for my postdoctoral research. With the support of the WRF, I will be able to pursue a research project I am deeply passionate about, and in so doing I have the opportunity to advance our collective understanding of substance use disorders. The WRF fellowship also provides me with invaluable opportunities for networking and professional development.

 

 

 

Dr. Emma Wrenn

Seattle Children’s Research Institute Ben Towne Center for Childhood Cancer Research

What would you like people to know about you?
I was born in Seattle but spent a lot of my childhood in California, where I was lucky enough to have fantastic science teachers who helped me discover my passion for biology. I was having trouble deciding between conservation biology, ecology, or marine biology when I happened to take a cell & molecular biology class in college and was immediately hooked. I was quickly drawn to translational research and its potential to meaningfully improve lives through better treatments and understanding of diseases. I pursued my PhD at the University of Washington & Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center in Dr. Kevin Cheung’s lab studying breast cancer metastasis, specifically how tumor cells work together and cooperate in order to colonize new organs. I then joined Dr. Beth Lawlor’s lab at Seattle Children’s Research Institute, where we focus on understanding and targeting the aggressive pediatric cancer Ewing sarcoma. Outside of the lab, I love exploring the outdoors and everything the Pacific Northwest has to offer.

How do you describe your research to colleagues?
I study the role of inter- and intra-tumoral heterogeneity in Ewing sarcoma, and how different tumor cell subpopulations contribute to disease progression and treatment resistance. Specifically, we have found that Ewing sarcoma tumor cells are very plastic and generate transcriptionally and phenotypically distinct subpopulations. One of these subgroups adopts a highly mesenchymal identity and secretes large amounts of extracellular matrix (ECM), analogous to cancer-associated fibroblasts (CAFs) in other tumor types. These “CAF-like” tumor cells remodel the tumor microenvironment, and we find that the ECM they deposit supports metastatic outgrowth. Part of my work focuses on understanding the master regulators that generate these cell states and promote tumor microenvironment remodeling. Additionally, I am working on developing therapeutics that bind these tumor-enriched ECM proteins in order to deliver cytotoxic or immune-modulatory cargos directly to the most treatment-resistant tumor regions. The ultimate goal of my work is to make Ewing sarcomas more amenable to treatment by destroying these aggressive cell subpopulations and blocking them from remodeling the tumor microenvironment.

How do you describe your research to non-scientists?
While we have made tremendous strides in treating many types of cancer, for patients whose tumors relapse or spread to other organs survival rates remain disappointingly poor. My work focuses specifically on Ewing sarcoma, an aggressive tumor type that usually starts in the bone and is most common in adolescents. We have identified some of the mechanisms that help these tumor cells spread to other organs and evade treatment. For example, my studies have shown that specific groups of tumor cells lay down protective fibers of extracellular matrix proteins like collagens which function as a shield to protect them and promote their survival. I am also developing and testing new therapeutics that deliver chemotherapy only to cells near those tumor-specific matrix components, in order to kill the most aggressive tumors cells while sparing normal healthy tissues around them.

What public benefit do you hope will come from your work?
My goal is to help find more effective, less toxic therapies for aggressive pediatric cancers. Currently we treat these tumors with drugs that cause life-long side effects, and for many patients those drugs don’t prevent their cancer from progressing. While chemotherapy and radiation have made a huge impact on survival for many tumor types, we desperately need new therapies for the patients who can’t be cured by these traditional strategies. I hope that my project will lead to novel therapeutic strategies that could benefit these patients.

What difference has the Washington Research Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship made to your work?
I am so grateful to the Washington Research Foundation, their support is helping me launch an ambitious new project that is focused on generating and testing novel therapeutics for pediatric cancers. The WRF community has been so welcoming, and my discussions with the WRF team and other fellows have already given me new ideas for moving this project forward. I look forward to continued collaboration with the WRF community, and can’t wait to hear more about all the exciting work WRF fellows are undertaking.

 

 

 


2023 Fellows

Dr. Melanie Anderson, University of Washington Department of Biology
Dr. Xochitl Clare, University of Washington School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences
Dr. Delphine Depierreux, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center Human Biology Division
Dr. Andrew Hunt, University of Washington Department of Biochemistry
Dr. Haedong Kim, University of Washington Department of Genome Sciences
Dr. Brendan Larsen, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center Basic Sciences Division
Dr. Wangcheng Liu, Washington State University Composite Materials & Engineering Center
Dr. Gemma O’Connor, University of Washington School of Oceanography
Dr. Arvind Pillai, University of Washington Department of Biochemistry
Dr. Chetan Poudel, University of Washington Department of Chemistry
Dr. Sarah Pristash, University of Washington Department of Chemistry
Dr. Iroro Tanshi, University of Washington Department of Biology
Dr. Sheenam Verma, Benaroya Research Institute Center for Fundamental Immunology


 

Dr. Melanie Anderson

University of Washington Department of Biology

What would you like people to know about you?
Did you know that a male moth can detect even a hint of pheromone from a female moth from miles away? I have been fascinated by insects since my childhood and was able to combine my interests of biology and engineering during my doctoral research to create the “Smellicopter”. The Smellicopter is a palm-sized drone which uses the moth’s antenna to autonomously seek out the source of odors using a bio-inspired search algorithm. As I worked on this project, my interest grew into a passion to see this technology be used out in the world and not just in a laboratory setting. During my time as a Washington Research Foundation Postdoc, I will be improving the robustness of the drone platform for flight in dynamic environments and changing wind conditions as well as collaborating on applying gene editing and machine learning techniques to the moth antenna for detection of specific target chemicals. I also plan to explore opportunities to commercialize my technology, which could be used in a wide variety of scenarios from finding trapped persons in search-and-rescue operations, to early detection of pests and diseases in agricultural settings, to even non-invasive screening of illnesses in medical settings.

How do you describe your research to colleagues?
We use Manduca sexta hawkmoth antennae as a chemical sensor on a palm-sized drone platform for odor localization. The antenna produces a compound potential voltage measured from the base to the tip of the antenna in response to odors which we can measure with miniaturized circuitry (an electroantennogram). This electroantennogram is smaller, lighter, and faster responding than any man-made sensors on a similar scale, making them uniquely suitable for sensing odors while on a palm-sized drone. The drone is equipped with optic flow and laser range sensors for autonomous flight and novel fins for passive wind orientation. This makes it possible to execute a bio-inspired search algorithm. We are working to improve this platform for robust outdoor flight and also to be able to detect specific chemicals of interest.

How do you describe your research to non-scientists?
Like a dog’s nose, moths use their antennae to smell odors. When separated from the moth, the antenna still produces small signals in response to the odors they smell for up to a few hours, and longer with some help. We can measure these signals using miniaturized circuitry which we place on a palm-sized drone. This drone is then programmed to autonomously fly towards the odor source using a search algorithm inspired by the way moths track odors like food sources and mates. In the future, this drone plus antenna sensor can be used to seek out a wide variety of sources, such as finding trapped people during search-and-rescue operations, or to locate buried mines. Man-made odor sensors are not small enough or sensitive enough to be able to do these tasks.

What public benefit do you hope will come from your work?
Using odor to locate a person, item, or thing is an underutilized task. In life-saving scenarios, such as in search-and-rescue, we use nature in the form of search dogs to locate trapped people via smell because man-made sensors are not portable enough or sensitive enough to be used in this way. By taking advantage of the moth’s incredible antennae, we can make odor localization a more widespread task. In search-and-rescue scenarios, a swarm of these small drones with antennae could locate a trapped person quicker than a dog could traverse the difficult terrain of fallen buildings while keeping the dogs and handlers out of harm’s way. In agriculture, pests and diseases are currently only detected after disease has done visible damage to the crops or the pests have become prevalent enough to be caught in inspected traps; these drones with antennae could provide early detection of these pests and disease via odor. Even in medical settings, the antenna sensing odors on human breath could be a non-invasive alternative to blood draws or nasal swabs for rapid detection of some illnesses.

What difference has the Washington Research Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship made to your work?
I am extremely grateful to the Washington Research Foundation for funding me and my research. Not only is WRF supportive of my research, but they are also supporting my quest to make this technology a reality and to commercialize this research by founding my own company. This fellowship will allow me to do crucial research and make technology developments that will be necessary to continue this path.

 

 

 

Dr. Xochitl Clare

University of Washington School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences

What would you like people to know about you?
I am a first-generation Afro-Latina Marine Biologist and Performing Artist, I have experience with socioeconomic barriers that alienate communities from nature. Growing up in California, it is to the surprise of many that I spent most of my life far away from the water. Without the ability to afford swimming lessons, or marine science summer camps, my single mother kept my aquatic dreams afloat through bright books and media. Today, as an ambassador for diversity, I ensure ocean conservation biology projects I lead are dedicated to welcoming individuals of all backgrounds to the scientific discovery needed to heal our planet.

How do you describe your research to colleagues?
As a WRF postdoctoral researcher at the University of Washington School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences, I will use eco-physiology and scientific storytelling to understand effects of pollution and ocean warming in Placencia, Belize. My postdoctoral work will be in collaboration with educators and NGOs that are currently advocating for conservation in Belize.

How do you describe your research to non-scientists?
I am a marine biologist and performing artist who uses the combined power of these disciplines to improve our relationship with our blue backyards.

What public benefit do you hope will come from your work?
Stakeholder collaborations require time devoted to masterful communication. Therefore, while it is known that ecological dynamics are tied to social dynamics–work to improve the public-to-science connection is only recently emerging the Global South. My proposed work will equally conduct research in an underexplored ecosystem and create a framework to engage communities in my findings.

What difference has the Washington Research Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship made to your work?
While ocean health findings are important for the public to access, more efforts are needed to make scientific information more accessible. The WRF Postdoctoral Fellowship has given me an opportunity to solidify an on-the-ground network in Belize to begin scientific and community work in my next steps alongside the University of Washington and my international partners (Crocodile Research Coalition and the University of Belize).

 

 

 

Dr. Delphine Depierreux

Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center Human Biology Division

What would you like people to know about you?
My curiosity about viruses and immunity stems from my undergraduate studies. I grew up in Southern Belgium where an emerging virus called Schmallenberg infected the university’s veterinary farm. I was fascinated by the speed at which a virus can spread, and the investigative efforts required to identify it. I built tools to study this virus and contributed to a diagnostic test during the first year of my M.Sc. My interest in virology was reinforced during my second master’s thesis at Harvard Medical School, where I saw how big data could be used to identify new viruses. I then decided to pursue a Ph.D. in viral immunology at the University of Cambridge where I learned a lot about the immune system and vaccine models. I also had the opportunity to learn about global health issues through volunteering work with students’ societies and collaboration with WHO. I developed a strong interest in translating scientific research into real-world applications at Cambridge Judge Business School. Aside from my research, I enjoy engaging with the public to increase awareness of women’s health, and, when I am not in the lab, you can typically find me outdoors!

How do you describe your research to colleagues?
I study the developmental pathway of HIV broadly neutralizing antibodies (bnAbs) in longitudinal samples of super-infected individuals. Using high throughput sequencing and computational approaches, I reconstruct the lineage of B cells that produce HIV-specific bnAbs, working backward, up to a pre-HIV infection timepoint. This allows me to test the exciting hypothesis that a non-HIV antigen may be required to elicit HIV-bnAbs.

How do you describe your research to non-scientists?
I study rare samples from people who live with HIV and have naturally developed defenses that block many HIV strains. These super defenses are called broadly neutralizing antibodies. My job is to learn from the patients’ samples what is required to induce our immune system to make these super-effective antibodies. With this information, I hope to design a template for a vaccine that can teach our bodies to make HIV broadly neutralizing antibodies from scratch and protect us against HIV diversity.

What public benefit do you hope will come from your work?
I hope to apply the findings of my research to vaccine development and get us a step closer to an effective HIV vaccine.

What difference has the Washington Research Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship made to your work?
The support of the WRF allows me to pursue an original research project and take risks. It gives me access to a network of like-minded researchers that share a desire to solve unmet public health challenges and translate their findings into real-world applications. It also provides me with independence at an early stage of my career.

 

 

 

Dr. Andrew Hunt

University of Washington Department of Biochemistry

What would you like people to know about you?
I grew up in Albuquerque New Mexico and did my undergraduate in Chemical Engineering at the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology. When deciding on what to study for my PhD, I became fascinated by synthetic biology, the idea that biological systems can be rewired both to solve real world problems and to yield insight into how biological systems work. I was most drawn to studying proteins, the molecular machines that that enable nearly every biological function and that possess enormous potential to solve societal problems. In my PhD, I developed methods for rapidly manufacturing and evaluating proteins and applied them to the discovery and engineering of protein therapeutics. Looking towards my postdoctoral research and beyond, I am excited to learn how to design new proteins from scratch. Outside of my research, I lead the Engineering Biology Research Consortium Student and Postdoc Association’s podcast EBRC In Translation, an interview podcast where we talk to diverse members of the engineering and synthetic biology community about all things synthetic biology. Outside of science, I am passionate about food, music, travel, and the outdoors.

How do you describe your research to colleagues?
During my postdoc, I will use a hybrid computational and automated experimental approach to design enzymes. I will focus on the design of enzymes capable of breaking down polyethylene terephthalate (PET) and polyethylene (PE) plastics to enable the sustainable recycling of these materials. My work will also aim to improve enzyme design methodologies more generally by incorporating machine learning, molecular dynamics, and data-driven approaches enabled by automated and iterative experiments.

How do you describe your research to non-scientists?
I work on designing new enzymes, protein catalysts that build and break down molecules, to enable environmentally benign recycling and breakdown of plastics. To do this, I will use computational techniques to build new enzymes from scratch and use high-throughput experimental methods to manufacture and test the designs in the lab. By performing this process iteratively, I will use the experimental data to improve our design methods and to ultimately make new catalysts capable of breaking down plastics. Through this process, we will also learn how to better design new enzymes with user defined functions.

What public benefit do you hope will come from your work?
Plastic waste poses major challenges for human and ecological health. I plan to create enzymes capable of degrading and recycling these materials to alleviate the burdens of plastic waste. More broadly, biomanufacturing with enzymes and engineered biological systems has the potential to shift our economy away from a largely petroleum-based economy to one in which we derive most of the chemicals and materials we need for modern society from biological sources. This shift will be beneficial because it will reduce our impact on our biosphere and shift the world economy to one that is circular and sustainable.

What difference has the Washington Research Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship made to your work?
The WRF postdoctoral fellowship enables me to confidently pursue a pivot in my postdoctoral research where I will expand my research skillset by learning computational techniques. Additionally, the three years of funding provided by the fellowship will allow me to take on more ambitious projects. I also anticipate that my interactions with the other fellows and members of the WRF community will have lasting impacts on my career. I am excited to collaborate with the WRF community to amplify my scientific and social impact while learning to become a better scientist and innovator.

 

 

 

Dr. Haedong Kim

University of Washington Department of Genome Sciences

What would you like people to know about you?
I am a molecular biologist specializing in the study of how gene expressions are controlled during developmental and pathological processes. During my undergraduate studies in Biological Sciences at the Seoul National University in South Korea, I became captivated by the intricate nature of biological systems, particularly the molecular principles governing gene expressions. This fascination led me to join Narry Kim’s lab, where I conducted research on RNA-mediated gene regulation as part of my PhD program. In this role, I devised and implemented high-throughput techniques, including an innovative sequencing method and a massively parallel assay, which enabled me to discover novel regulatory pathways. The practical implications of my research extended to enhancing gene silencing techniques for basic research and RNA therapeutics. More recently, I transitioned to Jay Shendure’s lab at the University of Washington, aiming to expand my expertise from molecular-level gene regulation to cellular-level understanding of organizational principles during development. Currently, my primary objective centers around the development of cutting-edge single-cell methods that illuminate the mechanisms underlying cell type-specific gene expression. Having been born and raised in South Korea, I am thoroughly enjoying my new life in the beautiful state of Washington!

How do you describe your research to colleagues?
During development, the destiny of cells undergoes dynamic changes influenced by both internal and external factors. Abnormalities in these processes can lead to diseases such as cancer. However, it remains unclear how these happen due to our limited ability to profile molecular events as they unfold in space and time. In this project, I am developing a single-cell “4D” transcriptomics method that provides molecular information with both spatial and temporal resolution. The method decodes the output of molecular recorders that typewrite cellular histories into the genome, thereby recovering multi-modal information about the temporal order of lineage commitment and signaling cascades, tissue architecture, and transcriptome at single-cell resolution. I plan to apply this method to explore tissue-scale mechanisms governing cell fate decisions, utilizing human skin organoids as a model system. Moreover, I aim to leverage the developmental principles to achieve data-driven cell engineering. Overall, this project will uncover spatiotemporal regulation of tissue development and advance tissue engineering techniques for therapeutic applications.

How do you describe your research to non-scientists?
Imagine trying to capture and remember every single moment of a busy city street, which is an incredibly challenging task. Similarly, in tissue development, there are countless cells undergoing dynamic changes, and comprehending all these events is quite difficult. That’s where my research comes in. I aim to develop a new method, like surveillance cameras, to record and store information about crucial events that occur during tissue development. By reviewing this record, we can investigate how tissues form over time and in different locations, uncovering important principles that were previously unexplored due to limitations of traditional methods. Therefore, this study will provide valuable insights into dynamic tissue formation, enhancing our understanding of disease progression and pushing the boundaries of tissue engineering.

What public benefit do you hope will come from your work?
This project aims to introduce a groundbreaking approach that simultaneously profile key principles, including spatial architecture, lineage commitment, signaling transduction, and transcriptome on a genome-wide scale. These molecular characteristics are crucial for the understanding of any multi-cellular context, making this method a versatile tool for advancing our knowledge of disease mechanisms and facilitating the development of effective diagnosis and treatment strategies. Importantly, by utilizing highly adaptable human skin organoids as a model system, this research holds broad potential for studying a wide range of health issues, such as skin regeneration, cancer, psoriasis, atopic dermatitis, and hair loss. As a result, we can uncover critical mechanisms underlying skin diseases and identify novel therapeutic targets. Additionally, the newly identified principles will propel the advancement of organoid techniques for skin regeneration and enable more physiologically relevant drug screening. In summary, the project will make significant contributions to addressing diverse skin problems and advancing the field of tissue engineering, benefiting the general public in multiple ways.

What difference has the Washington Research Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship made to your work?
The Washington Research Foundation (WRF) postdoctoral fellowship has had a transformative impact on my research. Thanks to the financial support provided by the fellowship, I have been able to conduct a wide range of experiments, including advanced techniques such as single-cell sequencing. This funding has also given me the flexibility to explore new experiments in the future, pushing the boundaries of my research. Moreover, as someone who completed both my undergraduate and graduate studies in South Korea, I have been eager to establish a new professional network in the United States. The fellowship has been instrumental in facilitating this goal by offering opportunities to attend the annual WRF symposium and other conferences. These experiences have been invaluable in expanding my network, particularly within the scientific community of Washington State. I am sincerely grateful for the invaluable support I receive from the Washington Research Foundation.

 

 

 

Dr. Brendan Larsen

Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center Basic Sciences Division

What would you like people to know about you?
I am originally from Anchorage, AK. In my free time I love being outdoors admiring biodiversity – everything from birds to mammals to plants. I also enjoy snowboarding and finding new places to eat.

How do you describe your research to colleagues?
I am studying how viruses evolve to escape neutralizing antibodies using a relatively novel approach called deep mutational scanning, which allows us to characterize every single possible mutation in a high throughput manner.

How do you describe your research to non-scientists?
Why do we have to get flu shots every year? Why do we keep getting re-infected with SARS-CoV-2 variants? The main answer is that these viruses evolve so quickly they acquire mutations which no longer allow our antibodies to bind to them. Better understanding of this process, and being able to predict it would have far reaching implications.

What public benefit do you hope will come from your work?
I am studying a virus called Nipah, which is a highly pathogenic virus that regularly spills over from bats into humans in SE Asia. My data should give us a better understanding of the evolutionary capacity of this virus in particular. These data will also help us design better vaccines and monoclonal antibody therapies so that future spillovers will not lead to such devastating fatality rates.

What difference has the Washington Research Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship made to your work?
The Washington Research Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship is such a wonderful honor. I have been struck by the amazing science everyone in this program is doing and the large impact these projects will potentially have on science and society. This funding has also allowed me to focus solely on my project for the next few years, and I am deeply grateful and humbled by this opportunity.

 

 

 

Dr. Wangcheng Liu

Washington State University Composite Materials & Engineering Center

What would you like people to know about you?
My interest in engineering and science started in high school in my hometown back in China, from those intro-level chemistry and physics courses. I was excited to learn that many inventions that I didn’t know existed in the past. Together they motivated me to discover the “why” and infer the “how”, seeking the answer of “what if” in the future. In college, I chose my major in polymers science and engineering as it sounded unfamiliar but attractive to me. I eventually realized that polymers are a general kind of material for many applications and it has streamlined our day-to-day life. So, being a material scientist is a meaningful job, but how about practically addressing some real problems? While plastics are convenient, their convenience is not without consequences. Like the plastic waste issue? In fact, I have my own interesting story I would like to share: at the age of 17, I accidentally swallowed a tiny piece of plastic part from my pen. I was pretty anxious at the time, but surprisingly, nothing happened. However, such small plastics are lethal to small wildlife like birds and fish, whereas plenty of microplastic wastes pollute our planet at any time… With this in mind, I spent years in graduate studies at Washington State University (WSU) to tackle these challenges. After graduation, I will continue my research here with the same focus: bringing sustainability to polymer materials.

How do you describe your research to colleagues?
When addressing plastic waste, we often think of the symbolic PET bottles. However, PET bottles make up only ~12% of the commodity plastic products, while polyolefins are produced as much as 4-5 times of PET bottles (reaching 60% of the plastic market). Typically, most single-use plastics are polyolefins, and these single-use & short-life-span products are the biggest pollution issue. The recycling of polyolefins is quite challenging in many aspects, reflecting the fact that less than 3% of polyolefins are recycled at the current state of the art. For instance, the chemical and biological technologies, which can be more feasibly applied to upcycling PET bottles in advance (e.g., depolymerize wastes to monomers, and then polymerize monomers into new products), are still difficult to handle polyolefin wastes in a similar upcycling route. The chemical recycling of polyolefins mainly focuses on pyrolysis, which holds the promise of eventually valorizing polyolefin wastes into valuable products (e.g., fuels), but the efficiency of this method also depends on energy consumption. Under mild and economic conditions, depolymerization of polyolefins can produce wax-like materials. Waxes are poor in mechanical properties, so is it feasible to regenerate them into new polymeric materials using practical processing methods? Also, how do the miscibility and compatibility of waxes from various plastic products influence the performance of final products (e.g., the tolerance of co-mingles)? And to what extent is depolymerization good in terms of material properties and cost? With these questions, we proposed to conduct a series study on polyolefin waxes, attempting to recycle polyolefin wastes into waxes and then chemically modify them as new feedstock to build polymeric materials (through cross-linking) for open-loop applications that are no longer typical plastics.

How do you describe your research to non-scientists?
Plastic is one of the most symbolic inventions of modern society. We enjoy plastic products because they are versatile and inexpensive for many purposes and applications. Nevertheless, the reality is that every household is pretty much struggling with piles of plastic waste. Each time we go to a grocery store, restaurant, and gift shop, we “purchase” many plastic products, and most of them are packaging materials. Most plastic wastes will end up in landfills or incinerations, and mismanaged plastic wastes are becoming microplastics that pollute everywhere: you can find them in your house’s tap water. In general, the issue of plastic waste is contributing to the global environmental crisis, but we still lack effective strategies and tactics to handle this issue. Hence, as plastic engineers, our task is to develop technologies to combat the massive plastic wastes, facilitating them into a sustainable and manageable cycle. To ensure that we can keep enjoying the convenience with sustainability in mind. In my research, I am thinking about “the other route” that can be more effective than the traditional recycling process of plastic waste. Instead of conventional “plastic-to-plastic” recycling, I look forward to a new insight to “open the loop” of plastic waste.

What public benefit do you hope will come from your work?
There is no doubt that plastic waste is one of the biggest global environmental problems of this century. The public is now even losing confidence in plastic recycling as more ordinary people are concerned whether the plastic waste is completely worthless and considered “trash”. Unlike revealing the environmental impacts, I hope this research will more practically address “how and why we can recycle post-consumer polyolefin wastes via new methods”, with the ultimate goal of reducing plastic products from becoming the wastes that pollute our planet. I believe this ultimate objective is the common desire of all of us.

What difference has the Washington Research Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship made to your work?
I do sincerely appreciate WRF for awarding this fellowship! In my field, the research funding usually comes from national agencies or industries: the previous case sometimes requires preliminary results to support a long-term project, and the latter case is generally short-term and sometimes demands following specific research directions (e.g., corporate interests). WRF’s postdoctoral fellowship does not look like these two; instead, it helps me and other diligent postdoc researchers to independently manage our long-term project that eventually meets public needs. It provides us the freedom and flexibility to bring our research to reality. Personally, since I put the research of plastic recycling as my career objective, this fellowship significantly boost my early career development. Meanwhile, it is also a great platform for me to meet other awesome people in versatile fields.

 

 

 

Dr. Gemma O'Connor

University of Washington School of Oceanography

What would you like people to know about you?
I grew up in a small town in north Georgia and received my B.S. in Industrial and Systems Engineering from Georgia Tech. While at Georgia Tech I stumbled into a research position studying past El Niño activity using corals I helped collect from a small island in the central Pacific Ocean. This experience made me fall in love with research and the geosciences, which led me to pursuing my PhD in Earth and Space Sciences at the University of Washington. During my PhD, I investigated past atmospheric circulation around Antarctica as a means to better understand the historical drivers of ice loss. This work made me realize that the ocean is the critical component for understanding Antarctic glacier retreat, which led me to pursuing a postdoctoral position in the UW School of Oceanography so I can better investigate the issue. I love studying Antarctica and was fortunate enough to conduct field work at a remote site in Antarctica. In my free time, I enjoy kayaking, biking, and baking.

How do you describe your research to colleagues?
I study the atmospheric and oceanographic drivers of glacier retreat in the Amundsen Sea Embayment of West Antarctica, which may be in a stage of irreversible retreat. Glaciers in this region are melting via complex ice-ocean-atmosphere processes that are poorly understood and poorly observed, leaving huge uncertainties in projections of ice loss and sea level rise. It is hypothesized that the stage of glacier retreat was initiated in the mid-20th century, prior to the first observations in this region, so I use proxy-data assimilation to reconstruct past atmospheric changes that could have triggered retreat. Complementary to this, I use numerical ocean models to simulate how such historical atmospheric changes could have altered the ocean conditions responsible for ice loss.

How do you describe your research to non-scientists?
I study the drivers of ice loss in the most rapidly melting region of Antarctica. Glaciers in this region are melting via complex wind-ocean processes that are poorly understood, leaving huge uncertainties in projections of ice loss and, ultimately, projections of sea level rise. This is one of the most data-poor regions of the world; as such, I use statistical techniques to extract data from ice cores and other proxy records to understand past climatic changes that may be responsible for ice loss in Antarctica. I also simulate past ocean conditions using complex models to understand the physical mechanisms that bridge the gap between past atmospheric changes and actual ice melting. Together, I hope my research advances our understanding of Antarctic ice loss and can inform projections of future melting.

What public benefit do you hope will come from your work?
Sea levels are rising, and a major source of uncertainty in projections of sea level rise is the contribution from the West Antarctic Ice Sheet – which alone can contribute up to ~5 meters of sea level rise. I hope that my research will provide a major advance to understanding of the drivers of glacier retreat in West Antarctica. Given our current understanding, it is extremely difficult to reliably predict how rapidly the ice will melt, so I hope that my research will be able to fill critical knowledge gaps and inform estimates of sea level rise projections, allowing society to better prepare for sea level rise on the appropriate timescales.

What difference has the Washington Research Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship made to your work?
My PhD thesis revealed just how important understanding the oceanographic processes causing melting in Antarctica. A natural next step for my research was to pivot to physical oceanography. The WRF postdoctoral fellowship allowed me to secure funding to work in a top-ranked Oceanography department, maintain collaborations with the top-ranked UW glaciology group, and develop new connections with resources I hadn’t been able to utilize during my PhD (e.g., the WRF-funded eScience Institute).

 

 

 

Dr. Arvind Pillai

University of Washington Department of Biochemistry

What would you like people to know about you?
I am deeply curious about how complex biological or physical systems can arise from simple underlying rules in nature. During my youth and college years, this manifested as an interest in evolution – a straightforward process of mutation, selection, and stochastic drift that has generated a bewildering array of living forms with unique and diverse survival strategies. As I progressed in my scientific career, I gained a new fascination with biological complexity at the molecular scale, particularly in the case of proteins. The chemical and structural versatility of proteins is remarkable; evolution has shaped them to perform a wide range of tasks, from capturing light to constructing the skeletal framework of cells. I wanted to learn both how these structures and their biochemical abilities arose during evolutionary history (the subject of my Phd thesis), and how we can design synthetic proteins “from scratch” with equivalently complex functionalities. In my postdoc, I am currently exploring how we can build synthetic proteins that more closely approximate the conformational lability and regulatory sensitivity of natural proteins, with the ultimate goal of making totally de novo biological switches, sensors and molecular motors. In my spare time, I am an amateur visual artist, an avid reader of world history, and a lover of herpetofauna.

How do you describe your research to colleagues?
Virtually every cellular process relies on the capacity of proteins to change in form and function in response to molecular signals .The ability to toggle between defined conformational states allows proteins to accomplish a huge array of biologically useful tasks, from pumping ions to conditionally inducing transcription. The design of artificial proteins with this sort of precisely defined structural plasticity is a major unsolved challenge in synthetic biology. I aim to address this limitation by exploiting recent machine-learning-based advances in protein structure prediction and design to construct de novo proteins that (1) can shift between defined alternative structural states and (2) can change their function and oligomeric-state in response to signals like light, pH and hormones. My hope is that these allosterically switchable proteins could serve as biosensors, switches as well as protein components in molecular motors.

How do you describe your research to non-scientists?
Proteins are absolutely central to the biology of the cell: they catalyze reactions, help cells sense and respond to their environment, replicate DNA, and mediate many other cellular processes. Part of the reason proteins can carry out these functions is because they can alter their molecular structure, adopting (often quite slightly) different shapes depending on context. Protein engineers have successfully built proteins with diverse shapes and molecular properties. But they are typically designed with a single static structure in mind and are not designed to toggle between specified structural states that could differ in activity. The goal of my postdoctoral work is to build entirely artificial proteins that match or exceed the structural and functional flexibility of natural proteins; i.e., alter their shape and biochemical proteins in response to their environment. Building proteins that dynamically switch in this way, would allow us to more effectively control the activity of synthetic proteins in the cell, with respect to variables like light, pH and hormonal levels, turning them “on” and “off” as needed for various biomedical applications.

What public benefit do you hope will come from your work?
My goal is to produce novel synthetic proteins that can (1) shift between alternative structural states, and (2) change their function and assembly-state in response to signals like hormones, light and pH, with significant application potential in biotechnology. The switchable nanostructures generated in this project could be used to build a new generation of protein-based logic gates or design novel inducible nanomaterials, such as sheets and fibers. Applications to the biomedical field include using these synthetic proteins to drive the association of synthetic cell surface receptors in response to binding to peptide-hormones, with complex-formation triggering a downstream signaling pathway in the cell. Another application is that allosteric proteins that conditionally assemble into rings or cages (or conditionally dissociate from them) could deliver a packaged drug, but only in a specific cellular context. Building conformationally flexible protein binders is also a key stepping stone to even greater design challenges –including the construction of a synthetic protein pumps and molecular walkers that can cycle through defined conformations, turning chemical energy into mechanical work.

What difference has the Washington Research Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship made to your work?
Given that funding opportunities for non-citizen researchers are rather limited in the US and no funding is readily available from my country of national origin, the Washington Research Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship will be quite important to me in independently pursuing my research goals. I anticipate that the WRF fellowship will be an important springboard for my career, helping me build a base of contacts in the biomedical field, as well as making me competitive for job opportunities down the line in both academia and industry. It is also an amazing opportunity for me to meet other scientists in the Washington area, opening the doors to fruitful collaborations and an exchange of ideas.

 

 

 

Dr. Sarah Pristash

University of Washington Department of Chemistry

What would you like people to know about you?
I grew up in upstate NY and went to college at the University of Rochester. I became very interested in clean energy as a teen and became super interested in photophysics through my schooling, so studies in solar energy were a natural intersection point for those interests. I’m especially interested in using light to study the energetics and dynamics of small molecules.

How do you describe your research to colleagues?
I work in upconversion, which is a photophysical process that generates higher energy photons from lower energy photons. I study triplet-triplet annihilation upconversion, which involves a triplet energy transfer between a photosensitizer molecule and an emitter molecule. My system is unique because it can efficiently generate triplets on the photosensitizer without the use of a heavy atom.

How do you describe your research to non-scientists?
My research aims to make solar panels more efficient by capturing light that is transmitted through the panel and converting it into light that the panel can use to generate power. This means you get more power from the panel from the same amount of incident light!

What public benefit do you hope will come from your work?
I hope to make solar panels more efficient and leverage that efficiency increase to accelerate the clean energy transition.

What difference has the Washington Research Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship made to your work?
The WRF postdoc fellowship gives me the freedom to be able to develop my technology and make it relevant for commercial solar applications. I don’t need to worry about funding myself, so I can focus on the science!

 

 

 

Dr. Iroro Tanshi

University of Washington Department of Biology

What would you like people to know about you?
I am an award-winning Nigerian tropical ecologist, conservationist, and planetary health expert with a keen interest in bats. I combine a curiosity about the natural world with an unquenchable effort to prevent extinction for at risk-species, especially in the tropics, where despite high species richness, the intensity and number of threats to biodiversity are unmatched by local resources, capacity and political will. I want to change that by doing actionable science that engages local communities to deploy solutions in Nigeria and West Africa. I lead a non-profit Small Mammal Conservation Organization (SMACON) that is registered in Nigeria and protects bats in West and Central Africa, while leading networks to raising local capacity and influence environmental policies in West Africa.

How do you describe your research to colleagues?
I deploy a combination of field and lab-based techniques to address questions about species co-existence, by examining the processes that drive biodiversity patterns across multiple spatial scales – from small, site level dynamics to large, biogeographical scales, including examining mainland versus island communities.

How do you describe your research to non-scientists?
I seek to understand how so many species coexist in biodiversity rich areas like the tropics. For example, what group of bat species occur together and how do those coexistence relationships arise? My research also includes monitoring at risk species and documenting how human activities drive biodiversity loss, informing my conservation work.

What public benefit do you hope will come from your work?
My work benefits the public by investigating and simultaneously responding to anthropologic impacts at local and large spatial scales that together address planetary scale crises. For example, my bat research discovered an Endangered bat species that was feared to be extinct in 2016, threatened by cave disturbance (microscale) and wildfires (landscape scale). Since that discovery, my field research demonstrated the need to raise local capacity and capability to fight the major threats. My work addresses the three biggest challenges of our time, by managing wildfires to protect forest and biodiversity, mitigate climate change, while reducing zoonotic disease risks for local communities.

What difference has the Washington Research Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship made to your work?
The WRF Postdoctoral Fellowship offered the opportunity to launch my lifelong dream of working on islands in addition to facilitating local community engagement. The fellowship empowered me to expand my bat research and conservation to the Gulf of Guinea Islands, a truly unique opportunity to combine my scholarly community engagement with my academic interests.

 

 

 

Dr. Sheenam Verma

Benaroya Research Institute Center for Fundamental Immunology

What would you like people to know about you?
I was born and raised in India. I became the first person from my family to pursue science. While doing my master’s program in agricultural biotechnology, I had the first-hand experience of seeing knowledge transfer from lab to field and how a small change could impact the lives of millions of people with higher crop yields and increased incomes for the farming communities. I wanted to learn the same life-changing scientific techniques which could benefit humans. So, I did my PhD in structural biology where I worked on characterizing the structure-function relationship of cross-reactive antibodies. Later, I joined the lab of Dr. Oliver Harrison at the Benaroya Research Institute as a postdoctoral trainee. Outside lab, I love to travel and have been to more than 10 states in the last year. In my free time I enjoy cooking, listening to music, and watching TV shows.

How do you describe your research to colleagues?
The role of gut microbes in autoimmune diseases (ADs) is rapidly evolving with lot of new findings over the last few years. These studies suggest that disturbances in the composition of the gut microbiota are strongly associated with autoimmune disorders. My goal is to investigate how immunity to gut microbiota antigens is altered in the patients with ADs and seek to identify whether microbiota-reactive antibodies may also cross-react with human proteins using high throughput technologies. I hope we will be able to identify specific microbial proteins aberrantly targeted in autoimmune disorders but not in healthy subjects and be the basis for future specificity testing in independent cohorts.

How do you describe your research to non-scientists?
The gastrointestinal tract harbors the largest and most diverse microbial community in the human body. The balance between microbiota and immune system is important to maintain the homeostasis. There are multiple lines of evidence that link insufficient exposure to microbial agents in early life to an increased risk of autoimmune disorders such as T1D and rheumatoid arthritis. Our goal is to identify gut microbiota-specific antigens that are targeted by immune system in the patients with autoimmune disorders.

What public benefit do you hope will come from your work?
The identification of disease-relevant microbial antigens has been challenging in any autoimmune disease, but our current discovery-based methods offer innovative approaches to this problem. This proposal utilizes new tools and approaches to investigate a key question, how do commensal-reactive immune responses contribute to extra-intestinal autoimmune diseases. Mining the gut microbiome to identify immunogenic microbial proteins or peptides capable of inducing a systemic antibody response in the host may identify novel biomarker candidates for AD diagnostics. We will develop new methods and technologies based on T1D and RA, which will form the basis of future studies for other autoimmune disorders.

What difference has the Washington Research Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship made to your work?
WRF is an exciting opportunity that will allow me to pursue an independent career at an early stage. Being an international post-doctoral fellow, early-career independent funding opportunities are restrictive. However, the progressive nature of the WRF fellowship allowed me to establish my own independent funding, while also allowing for more grant money to be spent on research projects. I can attend WRF lectures and events, discuss my ideas with the researchers in my field and with the wider scientific community. These prospects will expand my scientific horizon and open doors for collaborations that could have a beneficial impact on my career.

 

 

 


2022 Fellows

Dr. Jose Araujo, University of Washington Department of Chemistry
Dr. Jingshan Du, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory Physical Sciences Division
Dr. Benjamin Koger, University of Washington School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences
Dr. Richard Lee, University of Washington Department of Materials Science & Engineering
Dr. Ido Levin, University of Washington Department of Chemistry
Dr. Kelly Michaelsen, University of Washington Department of Anesthesiology & Pain Medicine
Dr. Eva Nichols, University of Washington Department of Genome Sciences
Dr. Kasim Rafiq, University of Washington Department of Biology
Dr. Pravrutha Raman, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center Basic Sciences Division
Dr. Sumitra Tatapudy, University of Washington Department of Biology


 

Dr. Jose Araujo

University of Washington Department of Chemistry

What would you like people to know about you?
I have liked science since my high school days in Mexico, but it wasn’t until community college that I knew I wanted to pursue a career in chemistry. That notion was further cemented when I learned about graduate-level research at the University of Southern California, where I transferred for my undergraduate studies. I eventually found my way to Seattle and earned a PhD in chemistry at the University of Washington. Over the past several years I have grown to love Seattle, so I am excited to stay here and do research as a WRF fellow while I continue to explore the Pacific Northwest. In my free time I enjoy fishing, photography, listening to music, and watching sports.

How do you describe your research to colleagues?
My research is focused on grid-scale energy storage technologies. Specifically, I am studying redox chemistries for hybrid flow battery applications. While flow batteries have been envisioned for grid-scale energy storage, their deployment has mostly been hampered by high cost, low energy density, and expensive, non-abundant materials. I am employing synthesis, spectroscopy, and electrochemistry to study ways of increasing the energy density of flow batteries with abundant, inexpensive materials and redox-active solids.

How do you describe your research to non-scientists?
I am studying a class of flow batteries that store energy in electrolyte tanks, which are separate from the power generation components. This separation of power and energy makes this technology safer and cheaper to scale up than traditional sealed batteries. In principle, these energy storage tanks can be large enough to power large portions of the grid. Traditional flow batteries, however, are expensive and they use corrosive, non-abundant materials. To address this problem, I am working to develop new electrolyte systems with high energy densities from abundant materials. If successful, this research will pave the way for efficient, inexpensive energy storage at grid scale.

What public benefit do you hope will come from your work?
A clean energy grid that relies on renewable energy sources is critical if we want to combat climate change and decrease pollution. While solar and wind power are great sustainable energy sources, they are intermittent. When the sun goes down and wind stops blowing, we still rely mostly on fossil fuels for power. Therefore, reliable energy storage solutions need to supplement renewables for a clean energy grid to work. Energy storage is just one piece of the puzzle, but the big-picture goal of my research is that it will lead to the development of economical, grid-scale energy storage technologies that can interface with a clean energy grid. This way, we can build energy storage containers that can power several homes or larger portions of the grid with clean energy on-demand.

What difference has the Washington Research Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship made to your work?
The WRF fellowship is allowing me to pursue an exciting research project that was not previously funded or explored in my group. As a postdoc, I am also interested in learning how a research project goes from fundamental science to a company. This fellowship will provide unique opportunities to learn about the engineering, policy, and business aspects of that process.

 

 

 

Dr. Jingshan Du

Pacific Northwest National Laboratory Physical Sciences Division

What would you like people to know about you?
My interest in serious scientific research was developed mainly in high school when I started exploring beyond astrophotography and generating plots and diagrams for things like the magnitude of variable stars. Upon entering college, I was fascinated by how tiny objects observed by an electron microscope can adopt such rich structures and shapes, and in some cases, they may appear similar to what we can see through a telescope despite the massive difference in the length scale. Moreover, the technical advances in the past few decades, which have enabled the observation and manipulation of atoms and molecules on a one-by-one basis, catalyzed my interest in the fields of chemical physics and nanoscale sciences. At present, I mostly work with electron microscopes and atom force microscopes to explore the nanometer-scale landscapes, but I still love to attend astronomical events such as eclipses, comet approaches, and other casual observations.

How do you describe your research to colleagues?
Ice formation in fluids plays a critical role in cryopreservation, atmospheric sciences, and aerospace materials. However, a poor understanding of ice nucleation and transformation in fluids, especially in the early stage, impedes the development of new ice-inhibiting methods. Existing ice formation models are limited to the classical nucleation theory, which assumes that ice crystals nucleate and grow through monomer attachment of water molecules. Despite the discoveries in multiple materials systems, non-classical pathways have not been invoked in most ice research models; this is mainly due to a lack of tools to monitor nanoscale ice formation and transformation in real space. I will develop new methods and instruments that enable low-temperature (scanning) transmission electron microscopy and use them to (1) map the surface and interface structure of ice and ice-colloid boundaries at atomic resolution and (2) observe nanoscale ice nucleation, growth, and transformation in colloidal fluids, including bio-liquids and aerosol analogs. This work will provide new capabilities for studying nano- and atomic-scale low-temperature phenomena, provide new insights on ice formation dynamics, and may eventually lead to novel ice inhibition protocols/agents and atmospheric models.

How do you describe your research to non-scientists?
Have you imagined how ice crystals form at the beginning? Ice is constructed by water molecules in a periodic way, but an ice crystal is rarely perfect. Their surfaces, interfaces between grains, and interfaces with minerals or other materials play a huge role in defining their formation and growth behavior. My research aims to resolve these structures and observe the initial formation of ice crystals when they are only a few to tens of nanometers in size. These studies may provide critical insights into ice formation pathways in bio-liquids and the atmosphere and eventually enable new ice-promoting or anti-icing technologies.

What public benefit do you hope will come from your work?
I hope the low-temperature in-situ microscopy techniques we develop will benefit the study of materials at sub-zero temperatures with high stability, correlated electron/confocal microscopy studies of cells, and in situ monitoring of chemical reactions that occur at low temperatures. The scientific discoveries regarding ice formation pathways and the role of new anti-icing agents will enable the engineering and discovery of novel cryopreservation agents and food processing protocols. These potential outcomes may improve the quality of bioproducts from therapeutics to everyday frozen foods. New insights in the ice formation kinetics in aerosols could benefit atmospheric modeling both for research and public forecasting in the long run.

What difference has the Washington Research Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship made to your work?
The Washington Research Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship provides a unique opportunity for me to explore a new technical field that has been largely unexplored. Under the support of the Fellowship, I have the resources to develop the new instrumentation and techniques required to investigate the sciences of nanoscale ice. With this Fellowship, I also challenge myself with resource/team management, multi-disciplinary collaboration, and translation of sciences to practical applications; all will be precious for my independent career.

 

 

 

Dr. Benjamin Koger

University of Washington School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences

What would you like people to know about you?
I am excited by the ways new technologies allow us to better understand the animals and environments around us. My background is originally in electrical engineering and computer science, but I studied biology for my Ph.D in the Department of Collective Behavior at the Max Planck Institute of Animal Behavior and the University of Konstanz. There I was able to begin understanding how to use machine learning to combine techniques for studying animals in natural habitats with techniques for studying animals in high precision lab environments.

How do you describe your research to colleagues?
I design and use tools that combine imaging and deep-learning based computer vision techniques to study animals in their natural physical and social environments. Primarily, I use drone mounted or fixed cameras to record raw footage of animals or landscapes of interest. Then, I use software to detect and track all present individuals in the footage and combine this with information about the camera’s geometry to precisely translate these tracks from the coordinates of the video frame to the real world in which behavior occurs. This work spans from ungulates in Kenya, to fruit bats Zambia, to pacific salmon in Alaska and the Pacific Northwest.

Particularly in the case of salmon, the combination of drones and software allows us to begin to explore automating tasks like seasonal redd or salmon counts which are vital for effective and sustainable management. At the same time, we can also explore important ecological interactions such as the details of grizzly bear/salmon hunts and the effects of sociality on sockeye salmon migration.

How do you describe your research to non-scientists?
I design and use tools that let us extract data from images of animals in their natural habitats. These tools let us monitor the health of animal populations as well as understand how they make decisions about what to do and where to go based on the individuals around them and the environment they find themselves in. Currently I am focused on doing this work in the context of pacific salmon and particularly in terms of salmon reproduction. Where do they choose to build nests? How many are they? How do they find the best locations and arrive safely? What does this tell us about salmon in particular but also what does this tell us about how any individual can effectively make decisions in complex and constantly changing environments?

What public benefit do you hope will come from your work?
This work opens the door to multiple public benefits. The most immediate comes from the possibility of creating more efficient tools for monitoring and understanding salmon populations in streams across their range. Quantifying the number of returning fish is often a key metric for evaluating the number of fish that can be harvested in healthy populations and for monitoring recovery (or not) in endangered populations. There are a range of tools used for this already but many of these rely on humans, in helicopters, on counting towers, or by the side of the stream, visually counting fish or their nests (redds). Drones and software can provide a way to scale up this monitoring effort beyond the areas and times that managers can currently deploy humans creating richer and more precise datasets. These tools can also simultaneously let us ask important questions about the wider ecology of both salmon and the wider natural world.

What difference has the Washington Research Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship made to your work?
The Washington Research Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship has been instrumental in allowing me to continue this work. Their willingness to fund longer term, three year projects has let me be ambitious both in terms of the designing of these tools and in terms of building relationships with the large range of stakeholders that are involved in the study and management of pacific salmon. The Washington Research Foundation Postdoctoral Fellows are an enthusiastic group of researchers and I am happy to get to spend time with them.

 

 

 

Dr. Richard Lee

University of Washington Department of Materials Science & Engineering

What would you like people to know about you?
My interests have always gravitated towards science ever since I was a child. I would watch Mr. Wizard’s World, Bill Nye the Science Guy, and Beakman’s World to satiate my scientific curiosity. Little did I know that one day I too would become a scientist myself. Fascinated by the brain and body, I studied physiology, neurobiology, and molecular cell biology at the University of Connecticut to obtain a deeper understanding of their inner workings. I had my first taste of academic research as an undergraduate working in a laboratory that studied the molecular mechanisms underlying neocortical development. This experience led me to a research scientist position at the University of Washington where I investigated the effects of neuroinflammation on stroke disease for seven years before eventually starting my graduate studies. Wanting to have a broader scientific base, I chose to expand my knowledge by pursuing a PhD in materials science in which my dissertation research involved using peptide biomolecules to functionalize biosensor surfaces towards the development of medical diagnostics.

How do you describe your research to colleagues?
Surface modification is commonly used to bestow biological functionality to various solid surfaces in order to expand their utility. Currently, a wide variety of chemical methods have been employed to confer such properties for various applications. These include covalent and non-covalent immobilization strategies in order to anchor biomolecules onto inorganic materials. Though widely used, covalent bonding methods have several major disadvantages: substrate specific chemistries limit the types of materials that can be functionalized, random orientation of the immobilized biomolecule diminish surface reactivity, and the use of harsh processing chemicals destroy or render useless the biomolecule to be immobilized. Likewise, current non-covalent bonding methods are limited in their material selectivity and molecular recognition capabilities. Given the limitations associated with using chemical linkages and chemisorption- or physisorption-based methods, an alternate approach based on solid-binding peptides is used for surface functionalization. This versatile and modular approach will be used to imbue sensor surfaces with functional characteristics for creating biosensor devices that can detect cancer, COVID-19, and other diseases and ailments.

How do you describe your research to non-scientists?
My research exists at the intersection of materials science and biology, with relevance to nanotechnology applications. Specifically, my research is on functionalizing the interface between solid materials and biological molecules in order to enable biosensor and bioelectronic technologies. Short segments of proteins, called peptides, are useful in this application since they allow specific recognition of a variety of materials based on their unique amino acid sequence. In addition, since peptides are of biological origin, they are also amenable for use with biomolecules and biomarkers. My goal is to take these solid-binding peptides and place them on sensing materials in order to create novel biosensors that can detect disease signatures from various biological fluids like blood or saliva.

What public benefit do you hope will come from your work?
The main societal benefit of this research is the potential for creating diagnostics towards health monitoring and disease detection. This could reduce the financial burden of patients by allowing for another avenue of preventative medicine that diagnoses and treats disease prior to costly corrective measures that come with later diagnosis. The scientific impact includes widening the path for peptide- enabled surface functionalization of low-dimensional materials such as graphene and carbon nanotubes. These peptide-based approaches are largely underexplored and thus provide ample opportunities for novel scientific discovery.

What difference has the Washington Research Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship made to your work?
The Fellowship has given me the freedom to pursue my intellectual curiosities beyond the scope of pre-existing funded research. Having this intellectual freedom allows me to ask bold research questions and explore wild scientific paths.

 

 

 

Dr. Ido Levin

University of Washington Department of Chemistry

What would you like people to know about you?
I am a physicist who is fascinated and inspired by the emergence of structures and shapes in nature. These, while often very complex, can appear due to simple underlying rules. I use geometrical and mechanical tools to uncover these rules in various systems. My research is interdisciplinary and while it mostly focuses on basic science, it tends to wander towards engineering and design. My experience includes developing a novel autonomous synthetic tissue that harvests energy from its environment to induce shape changes, 4D printing various materials, from gels to wood, and even fabricating shape-morphing pasta. My current interest is to apply my expertise to living and active systems. In my spare time, I like to hike and play board games.

How do you describe your research to colleagues?
Cells in many organisms, including humans, store excess energy in small, oily packets called lipid droplets, which the cells engulf to retrieve energy during periods of stress. Our Best understanding of this mechanism comes from the study of yeast. These, reveal that a phase transition, occurring in a membrane of an organelle called the vacuole, is a crucial step in this process. During the transition, the lipids in the membrane phase separate into large distinct domains. The domains can appear as cupped dimples on a golf ball, or have a more sharp, crenelated shape. However, it is not understood how such shapes arise, how they evolve over time, or how they affect binding between vacuoles and droplets. My research studies this astonishing shape-transition in vivo – by investigating living yeast, in vitro – by fabricating synthetic membranes, and by formulating a theoretical model that captures this striking behavior.

How do you describe your research to non-scientists?
How do natural systems shape themselves? The answer, surprisingly, is quite intricate. While humans have mastered many fabrication techniques that involve adding and removing material externally, natural systems utilize inner stresses to do that intrinsically. Examples rise from local contractions in a beating heart to the dehydration-induced shrinkage inducing the opening of a pinecone. Both our understanding of such concepts and our ability to mimic them in synthetic systems are still lacking. After working on “inanimate materials”, using geometrical tools to study their properties, and inventing novel fabrication techniques, my focus shifted to living biological systems. In this context, I study the shape evolution of fatty membranes. Many of such membranes reside in living cells, and their evolving shape is important to biological function. Currently, I am interested in a specific organelle, called the vacuole, whose shape conformation is theorized to be essential to metabolism in cells.

What public benefit do you hope will come from your work?
My work focuses mostly on basic science, and as such aims to broaden our understanding of nature. In this context, my research aims to understand mechanisms that drive processes crucial to biological function. Furthermore, I hope my research will motivate others to focus on “active solids”, leading to similar significant progress endowed by their fluid counterparts. Finally, I hope that the interdisciplinary nature of my research along with my personal interests, which stirred my research towards “real-life applications”, will keep doing so in the future.

What difference has the Washington Research Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship made to your work?
The WRF Postdoctoral Fellowship has enabled me to pursue an ambitious project which requires me to master new experimental techniques and includes several successive steps, each crucial to fulfilling my research goals. Additionally, by having my own funding I can more easily collaborate with other researchers, promoting additional scientific directions I am interested in. I am grateful for the opportunity to interact and to present my research to the wide scientific network of the WRF and to the other WRF fellows.

 

 

 

Dr. Kelly Michaelsen

University of Washington Department of Anesthesiology & Pain Medicine

What would you like people to know about you?
I studied particle physics in college, figuring I would work my way up from understanding the smallest bits of the universe to larger things. Quickly realizing that studying quarks could be an entire career by itself, I shifted to engineering and medicine, recognizing I wanted to participate in translational research where I could see my projects improving people’s lives within 5-10 years. After completing my M.D. and Ph. D. at Dartmouth College, I travelled across the country for a medical residency in anesthesiology at the University of Washington. Here I could take excellent care of some of the sickest patients and then walk five minutes across campus to work with some of the most accomplished engineers and computer scientists to develop better medical devices and technologies. Working in two male dominated fields, I am passionate about mentoring women interested in research and technology. In my free time I can be found with my husband, kids and dog, hopefully skiing or camping in our campervan.

How do you describe your research to colleagues?
My research involves bringing advances in technology to the perioperative space for improving patient care and safety. For this project, smart eyewear and computer vision techniques will be leveraged to develop tools specific to identification of syringes and drug delivery events. I collect video footage from the care of patients in the operating room, as well as simulated medical errors. These data are carefully annotated to develop machine learning tools for differentiating between types of medications through optical character recognition as well as to define potentially hazardous events. This research also focuses on calculating the syringe volume before and after drug injection using image segmentation techniques, as well as improving algorithm performance in low light environments (such as laparoscopic surgery) through image post processing. To accomplish the goals of this project we will need to develop techniques for improving computer vision tools for detecting small objects from large, high-resolution images and leverage information across a series of frames in the time domain to characterize an action. Ultimately these advances can be applied to a broad range or problems both inside and outside of the medical sphere.

How do you describe your research to non-scientists?
I am working on building a computerized patient advocate, a second set of eyes that can check the work of a healthcare provider while a patient is asleep in the operating room. This will be an automated system that takes in video data (through smart eyewear or other cameras) and identifies syringes that are selected by a medical provider prior to injection into a patient. It will use computer vision algorithms to ‘read’ the contents of the syringe from the label and relay that information to the provider through auditory or visual feedback, confirming that the provider has selected the correct drug. This advocate will also determine the volume of medication given to a patient and record it in the electronic medical record. Currently, drug doses are recorded manually by the healthcare provider, eliminating this task will decrease electronic distractions, allowing physicians to focus more directly of the care and safety of the patient.

What public benefit do you hope will come from your work?
I hope that we will be able to provide safer patient care as a part of my work. Identifying medications before and during injection into a patient can allow for opportunities to intervene and avoid harm. For example, a warning if a patient is allergic the drug in a syringe when it is picked up by a provider (rather than after the drug has been given) or if a medication dose becomes larger than typically recommended for a pediatric patient, the provider might stop giving the dose to make sure it is correct. In addition, improved accuracy of the medical record would potentially allow for individualized machine learning for optimizing drug doses in the operating room. More broadly, these first steps toward incorporating computer vision techniques into patient care could spur many future advances in healthcare.

What difference has the Washington Research Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship made to your work?
I am so excited to be a part of the Washington Research Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship program and look forward to meeting the other fellows and mentors that have a wide range of experience in academics, industry and medicine. I have so much to learn from them. This funding is essential at a time when hospital systems are under extreme financial stress due to the pandemic so I will have a better opportunity to pursue my research goals and next steps in my career as an academic anesthesiologist-engineer.

 

 

 

Dr. Eva Nichols

University of Washington Department of Genome Sciences

What would you like people to know about you?
I grew up in Los Angeles, CA, and Tucson, AZ. I was the first-in-family to go to college, and ultimately, become a molecular and cell biologist. But, I actually didn’t plan for that to happen—I originally wanted to be a veterinarian, but changed my mind during a federal work-study job where I started out washing lab glassware. Eventually, I began helping out with experiments, and realized that I really liked doing science! I ended up switching majors and graduating from the University of Arizona with a B.S. in Molecular and Cellular Biology in 2014. Afterwards, I went to the University of California, Berkeley, for my Ph.D. work. I studied how innate immune cell activity in the developing mouse brain promoted normal or atypical behaviors in adulthood. Inspired by how new technology really drove progress in my work—particularly, light sheet microscopy and single-cell RNA-sequencing—I joined the labs of Drs. Brian Beliveau and Jay Shendure in the Genome Sciences department at the University of Washington as a postdoctoral trainee in 2020. By being a part of the Beliveau and Shendure labs, I’m exposed to a new style of science where cutting-edge methods are routinely being innovated.

How do you describe your research to colleagues?
A lot of our analysis methods within the genome sciences are largely sequence based where we study the composition of RNA and DNA isolated from cells and tissue. There’s a newer class of methods that allow us to study RNA and DNA directly in situ—that is, within cells and tissue itself, without having to isolate RNA and DNA molecules for analysis. These methods are broadly referred to as “spatial -omics”, and rely on advanced microscopy to visualize RNA and DNA in a sequence-specific manner. While this new class of methods are unlocking incredible insights into biology, it is largely two-dimensional, being applied to sheets of cells or very thin tissue slices. My work aims to combine the latest advances in light sheet microscopy with RNA/DNA visualization to make spatial -omics more scalable so that larger volumes of tissue can be assayed at once in three dimensions.

How do you describe your research to non-scientists?
My goal is to create a method that makes 3D portraits of samples by “painting” their RNA molecules.

What public benefit do you hope will come from your work?
I hope that my work can push forward 3D pathology efforts. When patient biopsies are acquired, only a small portion of it is tested to look for pathological features (like cancerous cells). It’s possible that these important features are missed simply because the few thin sections acquired do not include them, and/or because the pathologist can’t appreciate the biopsy’s features in three dimensions. Combining 3D visualization with the ability to detect specific RNAs means that we can target a wider range of disease biomarkers without relying on antibodies, all the while preserving native tissue structures. My hope is that patient outcomes will be improved by this kind of 3D pathology approach. While I imagine this as a future extension of my work, for now, I’m working in a developmental biology context using mouse embryos (which are much easier and consistent to get over patient samples).

What difference has the Washington Research Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship made to your work?
My proposed work is generally perceived as risky because it’s resource-intensive and requires many diverse skill sets (ranging from mouse husbandry to cluster computing!). As a result, my science is harder to fund. I’m really grateful that the Washington Research Foundation is supporting my work. Not only do I have increased access to resources to help achieve my goals, I also have access to a wider collaborative research community and network right here in the PNW.

 

 

 

Dr. Kasim Rafiq

University of Washington Department of Biology

What would you like people to know about you?
I’m fascinated by the opportunities in the space between ecology, conservation, and technology. This is reflected in my work, where I like to combine novel technologies with fieldwork to understand how and why species are responding to environmental change and what that means for their conservation. To this end, I’m a big proponent of bridging the space between wildlife researchers, experts from other disciplines, and industry. For example, I previously worked with engineers from conservation technology companies to help develop and test new tools for studying animals in the wild. Also, during my PhD, I developed a new method to monitor wildlife numbers using only geotagged ecotourism photographs. I’m currently working with safari companies in Botswana to implement this approach across their lodges. Outside of research, I’m excited by emerging trends in social-impact entrepreneurship and the opportunities to tackle aspects of the biodiversity crisis by blurring the space between scientists and entrepreneurs.

How do you describe your research to colleagues?
I am a wildlife ecologist who integrates fundamental ecological knowledge, statistical modelling, and emerging technologies to understand how changing environments shape animal behaviour and population persistence. My studies span scales and disciplines, but in particular, they focus on using bespoke animal-worn sensors to understand how climate change alters the behaviours of predators and the consequences of these shifts for wildlife and people. By providing insight into how and why species are affected by climate change, I aim to help improve the futureproofing of conservation initiatives by informing on potential future conflicts and the difficulties predators face in adapting to their new environments.

How do you describe your research to non-scientists?
I help create animal-worn sensors that allow us to track where animals are moving in their environments, and I use these sensors to understand how environmental change is impacting wildlife. By combining the GPS data from sensors that animals wear with data from satellite imagery and climate measurements, I ask questions ranging from ‘how and why do large predators change their behaviours in response to temperatures’ to ‘will rising temperatures increase conflict between carnivores and people.’ By providing insight into how and why species are affected by climate change, I aim to help improve the futureproofing of conservation initiatives by informing on potential future conflicts and the difficulties predators face in adapting to their new environments.

What public benefit do you hope will come from your work?
The success of species conservation for future generations depends on our understanding of how they are affected by current environmental changes. Understanding how climate impacts wildlife is critical for guiding conservation efforts across spatial scales because it allows us to understand, anticipate, and adapt our decisions to consider changing environments. This information can be important for setting broader policy targets since understanding ecological processes within systems (and how they might change with climate) can help guide policies that protect the ecosystem services we rely upon. For example, it can help us determine the habitats most important for species’ survival and inform the design of wildlife-protected areas that continue to be effective as conditions change. My work can also help understand where and why environmental change may alter or amplify conflict between people and wildlife. In doing so, my work can help inform the development of effective conservation solutions that target the underlying causes of conflict and that benefit both people and wildlife.

What difference has the Washington Research Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship made to your work?
My most impactful research comes when I have the intellectual and financial freedom to adapt research agendas to an evolving understanding of problems and when co-developing solutions with stakeholders. The level of intellectual and financial freedom provided by the Washington Research Foundation postdoctoral fellowship is rare and provides the ideal conditions for me to do my most impactful and best work. The fellowship has provided me with the freedom needed to pursue ambitious ideas that would not otherwise be possible. Further, the WRF research community has provided an inspiring interdisciplinary environment that allows me to develop my research in a way that maximises its societal impact.

 

 

 

Dr. Pravrutha Raman

Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center Basic Sciences Division

What would you like people to know about you?
I grew up in Muscat, Oman and in Chennai, India. But I didn’t have any exposure to research as a career path. I assumed being a medical doctor was the only way. During high school and then undergrad, I discovered my interest in research through lab courses. This led me to do a Masters in Genetics at Newcastle University where I decided I wanted to pursue research as a career path. While my Master’s research had a clinical bent, I often found myself gravitating towards questions in basic biology. This eventually led me to the University of Maryland for a Ph.D studying epigenetic regulation using small RNA molecules. This field was relatively new and booming and there was tremendous work exploring many different angles of how small RNAs regulated gene expression. While much of the work was focused on understanding what was similar between organisms, it was clear that there were many differences that made these mechanisms unique to each organism. I was drawn to these differences in epigenetic mechanisms and decided to come to Fred Hutch in Seattle, to study how epigenetic mechanisms change across evolutionary timescales in Dr. Harmit Maliks lab. Co-mentored by Dr. Harmit Malik and Dr. Toshio Tsukiyama, I am setting up my own research program studying the evolution of the epigenome, focusing on histone proteins that package DNA in our cells.

How do you describe your research to colleagues?
Histone proteins package DNA in eukaryotic cells and regulate a vast array of essential biological processes. This essentiality has typically led to the constrained evolution of histone proteins. Yet, more recent work including my own suggests that some histones can show dramatic variability in sequence or new histone proteins can evolve in specific eukaryotic lineages. This defies what is characteristically expected of histones and suggests that innovation in histone proteins could lead to biologically novel functions. My work focuses on identifying such evolutionary novelties and studying the consequences of these new or varied histones using multiple model organisms.

How do you describe your research to non-scientists?
Every cell in an organism (like the human body) contains the same DNA which is extremely long and needs to be packaged to fit within our tiny cells using proteins called histones. Despite having the same DNA, different cells in the body behave and function differently. Histones not only help package DNA but also facilitate which pieces of DNA are used in a cell so that cells can still develop differently to perform different functions. I study how these histone proteins have evolved across organisms from the single-celled budding yeast to complex multi-cellular organisms like humans and how these evolutionary changes can contribute to unique functions in these organisms.

What public benefit do you hope will come from your work?
My work aims to understand the very basics of how cells in an organism function. Specifically, my work will highlight how changes in histone repertoires can alter biological functions across organisms. I have already discovered new histones in humans that were previously unknown highlighting how evolution is an excellent tool to find new histones and study their functions. Furthermore, histone proteins are altered in many diseases including cancers and my work could ultimately reveal how changes that accumulate during disease could alter their function.

What difference has the Washington Research Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship made to your work?
The WRF Postdoctoral Fellowship has been instrumental for me to ask ambitious scientific questions. My postdoctoral work requires me to learn and implement techniques in multiple model organisms which will give us a wholesome picture of histone innovations. The WRF fellowship is also unique since it supports scientists across varied STEM fields. This gives me the rare the opportunity to interact with diverse scientists, to get feedback from scientists with varied expertise and to establish future collaborations.

 

 

 

Dr. Sumitra Tatapudy

University of Washington Department of Biology

What would you like people to know about you?
I spent my time growing up in San Jose, CA and Mumbai, India. An exposure to two very different education systems gave me an opportunity to appreciate different approaches to learning and problem solving in biology, and STEM at large. Subsequently, when I pursued my undergraduate degree at UC Davis I discovered an unwavering fascination for cell biology and genetics research. The process of research that involved a rigorous focus on solving complex problems and what seemed to involve relentless pursuit of trial-and-error felt extremely rewarding. My curiosity to understand cell fate decisions and how they orchestrate specific tissue organization during development motivated me to attain a PhD at the Nystul lab at UCSF. There, I studied stem cell fate decisions in adult Drosophila ovarian stem cell niches. Through my graduate school journey, I started noticing the challenges with inclusive mentorship and education. We often teach the way we learn. The essence of inclusive teaching, however, is to shift the focus onto teaching “the way they [students] learn”. This school of thought resonated deeply with me, as I started reflecting on reasons for low sense of belonging and low self-efficacy among supremely talented undergraduate students I mentored during the course of a summer research program at UCSF. Training students in biology education and research, involves teaching students how to approach resolving complex problems in biology. But at what point does that start creating an environment of assimilation rather than promoting creativity and an encouragement of ideas? What metrics could be developed to help both educators and students identify and assess the problems in creating an inclusive educational environment? All these thoughts preoccupied my mind around two years ago, and I realized something: there was no way to be inclusive of all, without asking students about their experience and collecting data that is truly representative of student opinions and affect. From that point on, I pursued multiple opportunities to develop skills in biology education research (BER), which introduced me to a world of questions all focused on improving STEM students’ learning experiences. On account of receiving a WRF fellowship, through my postdoctoral research, I get the opportunity to gain the required skills and develop tools for inclusive teaching and mentoring in biology. I am thrilled to work with Dr. Elli Theobald, who has produced an inspirational body of work focused on identifying ways to reduce inequities between student performance at the University of Washington, Seattle.

How do you describe your research to colleagues?
STEM fields are not equitable, inclusive, or diverse, and are perceived to be highly competitive. Could in-class competition have disproportionate detrimental impacts on students from minoritized groups in STEM? I will investigate how students’ perception of class competition impacts students’ feelings of belonging and course performance. Additionally, I will explore the impact of the instructor vulnerability-authority tradeoff on students’ perception of in-class competition, and develop tools to measure the impact of instructor behaviors on student belongingness and equity in academic outcomes.

How do you describe your research to non-scientists?
My research is focused on developing tools for instructors to measure inequities in their classrooms and implement teaching methods that could promote equitable outcomes in student performance and belonging in STEM.

What public benefit do you hope will come from your work?
My research focuses on developing STEM inclusive education tools, all of which will aid instructors in identifying, assessing, and measuring the impact of their interventions in classroom environments. All the products I develop through my postdoctoral work, will be intended for STEM educators at colleges and universities, thereby amplifying the scale of impact in the field of science education.

What difference has the Washington Research Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship made to your work?
While BER is a rapidly growing field of study, there are fewer postdoctoral fellowship opportunities supporting scientists transitioning from life sciences research to biology education research (BER). Receiving the WRF Postdoctoral fellowship has enabled my transition from life science research to BER. I am grateful for WRF’s support, since it has given me a platform to work towards my eventual goal of becoming an effective biology educator and pursuing my BER research vision.

 

 

 


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. Ellie Armstrong

Washington State University School of Biological Sciences

What would you like people to know about you?
Growing up in Colorado, I developed a keen interest in the outdoors and the natural world from a very young age. After graduating from high school, I pursued a degree in Molecular Environmental Biology at the University of California, Berkeley, and got my first exposure to research in a lab that studied the phylogenetic patterns of adaptive radiations. From there I completed a master’s degree at the University of Hawaii at Hilo, where I worked on Arthropod populations (mostly flies and spiders) and examined the genomic patterns that underlie adaptive radiations. Finally, I went to Stanford for my PhD, where I made a big switch to mammals and started working on large carnivores. I worked on the genomics of the captive tiger population in the United States, as well as some wild populations of lions, tigers, and African wild dogs in Africa. Through all this, I have been increasingly aware of the lack of access to sequencing technology in developing countries, and this is something that has made me passionate about portable tools and equity in genomics. In my free time I like hanging out with my dogs, running, and playing video games.

How do you describe your research to colleagues?
In my research, I have tried to marry my academic interests with the practical needs of the conservation sector. On the academic side, I am interested in what happens when populations decline rapidly and what that means for genetic diversity and whether (and under what circumstances) this causes mutational load that affects individual fitness. Further, I am interested in how best to recover that diversity. How do we best apply our resources when it comes to genetic diversity given the options we have (e.g. translocations, captive breeding, etc.)? On the flip side of this, is providing a practical avenue to conservationists to use genetic tools for individual or species ID and to monitor the populations they study. Normally it takes a few years for an academic to do a genomic study of a population, but managers need answers rapidly (which animal was involved in a human wildlife conflict event? where did this trafficked individual come from?) to make decisions. Creating multiplex PCR panels from well-managed reference databases for species of conservation concern is a great addition to current conservation tools.

How do you describe your research to non-scientists?
The best way to think about my research is similar to services like 23andme and Ancestry, but for wildlife. We want to create useful tools using genetics to monitor populations, but also give us a better understanding of their overall health and diversity. Most importantly, we want to do this in a way that is accessible to wildlife managers. This will ensure that they are empowered to make rapid decisions about endangered species listings, translocations etc. In addition, these kinds of genetic tools can help us identify products in the illegal wildlife trade or in human-wildlife conflict events. These tools also minimize the interaction we need to have with wildlife to monitor them. If we can extract DNA from hair or feces, then we don’t have to bother the animal to learn about how they fit into the population and what their status is.

What public benefit do you hope will come from your work?
Generally, I hope that we can provide a roadmap to create portable tools for wildlife conservation. We already have a great collaboration started for piloting this work in brown bears with the US Fish and Wildlife Service, and they are very serious about monitoring bear populations from year to year in the lower 48. Other species we are working on, like the wolverine and the puma, are more cryptic and rare, and we know a lot less about where these populations might be in the Pacific Northwest. So, just having that information will help us to make policy recommendations.

What difference has the Washington Research Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship made to your work?
I think what is great about the Washington Research Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship is that it gives you a lot of flexibility to pursue your research and also connects you to a range of individuals that have experience across different sectors (like academia, industry, non-profit etc.). This is, I think, the ideal scenario for your postdoc– having that room to explore and exposure/access to all of your options.

 

 

 

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 the state of the art in 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? And could such technologies perform better than traditional, top-down designs?  Through data-driven discovery of parsimonious dimension-reduced models, I aim to design novel “reservoir computers” in systems of active matter. These computers will be trained through machine-learning algorithms to interpret complex pattern-forming processes as useful calculations. Realization of physical reservoir computers will represent a paradigm shift in computational technology that has the potential to rapidly compete with and even 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. Such complex, emergent behavior can be seen in systems ranging from social networks and economic markets to animal swarms and networks of neurons in the brain. 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 natural systems such as organisms achieve their functions without guidance and to leverage this understanding for engineering technologies including computer processors.

What public benefit do you hope will come from your work?
There are three 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 forging new collaborations with experimentalists working in active matter systems, I hope to create physical reservoir computer prototypes, which have been theoretically proposed 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 on which 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 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 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 Research 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 Research 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 up to 20% of cancers worldwide. Fred Hutch has a center-wide 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.