Ashleigh Theberge receives a 2018 Beckman Young Investigator Award

Assistant Professor Ashleigh Theberge has been selected to receive a 2018 Beckman Young Investigator Award. She is one of ten recipients selected from applicants across the chemical and life sciences following a three-part review led by a panel of scientific experts.

Through the Beckman Young Investigator Program, the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Foundation aims to support the most promising young faculty members in the early stages of their academic careers in the chemical and life sciences, particularly to foster the invention of methods, instruments and materials that will open new avenues of research in science. The Foundation is committed to helping launch the next generation of talented scientists by giving them the funding and flexibility they need to pursue novel areas of study that have the potential for revolutionary breakthroughs.

For her selection as a Beckman Young Investigator by the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Foundation Board of Directors, Professor Theberge will receive up to $600,000 over four years in support of her proposed research, Uncovering Chemical Signals in Complex Cellular Environments with Open Microfluidic Methods.

To learn more about Professor Theberge and her research, please visit her faculty page and research group website.

Additional coverage provided by the UW College of Arts & Sciences

Alshakim Nelson receives NSF CAREER Award

Assistant Professor Alshakim Nelson has received a CAREER Award from the National Science Foundation. The CAREER (Faculty Early Career Development) Program is a Foundation-wide program that “offers the National Science Foundation’s most prestigious awards in support of junior faculty who exemplify the role of teacher-scholars through outstanding research, excellent education and the integration of education and research within the context of the mission of their organizations.”

Professor Nelson applies his expertise in organic chemistry, polymer chemistry, and supramolecular chemistry to design stimuli-responsive materials for life science applications. Using interdisciplinary approaches such as living anionic polymerizations, rheological characterization, culturing microbes, and direct-write 3D printing, the Nelson research group is leveraging the stimuli-responsive behavior of materials to facilitate their fabrication or patterning. Ongoing work includes the development of polymer-living cell composite materials (“living materials”) and polymers to create anatomical models for human tissue.

Professor Nelson’s NSF CAREER proposal, “CAREER: Supramolecular engineering of hydrogel forming triblock copolymers,” aims to elucidate molecular-level design principles that can govern and control the physical properties of hydrogels. Improved understanding of the properties of hydrogels—soft materials largely comprised of water with numerous health-related uses (e.g., hygiene, contact lenses, medical implants, wound care)—will foster new design strategies for this important class of materials. In addition to the scientific goals, this project aims to expand access to and interest in polymer science for pre-college and college students and increase diversity within the field. Efforts will include the creation of educational modules to introduce polymer science to K-12, undergraduate, and graduate students, the engagement of disadvantaged and under-represented groups in STEM, and an emphasis on teacher training to maximize the overall impact of this project. 

For more information about this NSF CAREER Award, please visit the award website.

For more information about Professor Nelson and his research, please visit his faculty page and research group website.

Chiu, Vaughan receive NIH Transformative Research Award

Assistant Professor Joshua Vaughan and Professor Daniel Chiu are among the eight awardees selected by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for a 2017 NIH Director’s Transformative Research Award. This program is one of four in the NIH High-Risk, High-Reward Research program, which funded 86 awards to scientists working in biomedical research in 2017.

The NIH High-Risk, High-Reward Research program funds exceptionally creative scientists proposing to use highly innovative approaches to tackle major challenges in biomedical research. The program accelerates scientific discovery by supporting high-risk ideas with high-impact potential, and applicants are encouraged to think outside the box and to pursue exciting, trailblazing ideas in any area of research relevant to the NIH mission.

The NIH Director’s Transformative Research Award, established in 2009, promotes cross-cutting, interdisciplinary approaches and is open to individuals and teams of investigators who propose research that could potentially create or challenge existing paradigms.

Professors Chiu and Vaughan are developing radical new technologies for high-resolution mapping of brain tissue, including circuit-level spatial information down to a resolution of 50 nanometers and comprehensive analysis of the types of proteins present across large regions of the brain. These techniques are needed because it is technically difficult to directly detect large numbers of proteins in brain tissue.

Instead of trying to measure proteins directly, most approaches measure RNA molecules—a precursor to proteins. But RNA detection in spatially complex brain tissue has its flaws. Current approaches struggle with dim signals that are difficult to detect over background noise in complex, thick tissues. Professors Chiu and Vaughan will develop new fluorescent probes to light up RNA molecules in tissues and will use a novel, large-area light sheet microscope—together with sample processing techniques—to rapidly probe large volumes of brain tissue at high spatial resolution.

The work of 2017 NIH award recipients will be featured at the 2018 High-Risk, High-Reward Research Symposium, held June 6-8, 2018 in Bethesda, MD. The symposium is free, open to the public, and will bring together recipients of the NIH Director’s Pioneer, New Innovator, Transformative Research, and Early Independence awards to share their groundbreaking research and discoveries.

To learn more about Professor Chiu and his research, please visit his faculty page and research group website.

To learn more about Professor Vaughan and his research, please visit his faculty page and research group website.

Adapted by Diana Knight from a October 6, 2017 story by Jennifer Langston of UW News and Leila Gray of UW Health Sciences/UW Medicine.

Karen Goldberg elected to the National Academy of Sciences

UW News story by James Urton

Karen Goldberg, an affiliate professor of chemistry at the University of Washington, has been elected to the National Academy of Sciences. Goldberg is one of 84 new members to join, each chosen for “distinguished and continuing achievements in original research,” according to a statement released by the Academy. Their addition brings the total number of active members of the National Academy of Sciences to 2,382.

Goldberg studies catalysts, which are materials that act to increase the rate of chemical reactions. Catalysts are essential for industrial production methods ranging from pharmaceuticals to construction materials. In addition, catalysis methods enable essential laboratory experiments and scientific breakthroughs in chemistry, physics, biology and medical research.

Goldberg’s current research is focused on creating new catalytic methods to synthesize fuels and other chemicals more efficiently. Her approach is to elucidate the mechanisms of reactions that are mediated by organometallic compounds. This new knowledge aids in both understanding current catalytic methods and identifying routes to develop new and innovative catalytic protocols. This work could potentially lead to more sustainable sources of energy as well as other valuable organic chemicals for industrial applications.

Goldberg was a full-time UW faculty member in the Department of Chemistry from 1995 to 2017 and was the Nicole A. Boand Professor of Chemistry at the University of Washington. She moved to the University of Pennsylvania to become a Vagelos Professor of Energy Research and the inaugural Director of the Vagelos Institute for Energy Science and Technology. From 2007 to 2017, she served as director of the National Science Foundation-funded Center for Enabling New Technologies through Catalysis, a consortium of 20 faculty members and research labs at more than a dozen universities and research institutions pursuing innovative approaches to catalysis. Goldberg is a member of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences, a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the Washington State Academy of Sciences. In 2016, she received the American Chemical Society Award in Organometallic Chemistry.