Current Scholars

Eric Evans, Ph.D., is working with mentors William Zagotta, Ph.D., Professor of Physiology and Biophysics, and Stefan Stoll, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Chemistry, on the structural mechanisms of ion channel gating.  Dr. Evans graduated with a B.Sc. in Chemistry from Lehigh University.  He then earned a Ph.D. in Chemistry and Biochemistry from the University of California at Santa Cruz, where he studied the effects of metal binding on the structure of the prion protein (PrP), which is involved in several fatal neurodegenerative diseases.  This work helped demonstrate a large-scale conformational change in the protein upon binding of the metal ions copper and zinc that may be important in PrP function and disease progression.  As a Sackler Scholar, Dr. Evans is using electron paramagnetic resonance (EPR) and fluorescence techniques to study the molecular mechanisms underlying pore opening in cyclic-nucleotide-regulated ion channels.

Aida Llauró Portell, Ph.D., Dr. Llauró earned a bachelor’s degree in physics at the University of Barcelona and a doctorate in biophysics at the University Autonomous of Madrid.  Aida works in the laboratories of Charles Asbury, Ph.D., professor of physiology and biophysics, and Trisha Davis, Ph.D., professor and chair of biochemistry where she is using single molecule techniques to study the mitotic spindle.

Merav Stern, Ph.D.,  Dr. Stern completed her B.Sc. and M.Sc. in theoretical physics at Hebrew University of Jerusalem. She earned her Ph.D. from Hebrew University’s Interdisciplinary Center for Neural Computation while collaborating with Columbia University’s Center for Theoretical Neuroscience.  Dr. Stern is working with Eric Shea-Brown, Ph.D., professor of applied mathematics and affiliate investigator with the Allen Institute for Brain Science, and Shawn Olsen, Ph.D., an assistant investigator with the Allen Institute for Brain Science and an affiliate professor of physiology and biophysics. Dr. Stern is striving for a deeper understanding of how our brains process information.

Floris van Breugel, Ph.D.,  As an undergraduate at Cornell University, Dr. van Breugel studied biological engineering and designed the first passively stable hovering flapping machine under Hod Lipson, Ph.D., professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering and computing and information science. Dr. van Breugel earned his Ph.D. at Caltech, where he worked with Michael Dickinson, Ph.D., to study visual and olfactory search behavior in fruit flies.  He joined the labs of Jeff Riffell, associate professor of biology, and Nathan Kutz, professor of applied mathematics, electrical engineering, and physics, to apply modern machine learning tools to understand the search strategies used by different insect species.

Vicky Chen-Ching Yuan, Ph.D.,  Dr. Yuan earned two master’s degrees, one in cell and molecular biology at the Illinois Institute of Technology and another in biotechnology at the National Chiao Tung University in Taiwan, before pursuing her doctorate at the University of Miami. She works with Michael Regnier, Ph.D., professor of bioengineering and physiology and biophysics, and Tom Daniel, Ph.D., professor of biology. Her project aims to understand muscle force and strain distribution patterns using time-resolving small-angle X-ray diffraction.

Past Scholars

Mike Bindschadler, Ph.D., is working with James Bassingthwaighte, M.D., Ph.D., Professor of Bioengineering, and Adam Alessio, Ph.D., Research Associate Professor of Radiology.  Dr. Bindschadler earned a B.S. in Cell and Molecular Biology at the University of Michigan, and a Ph.D. in Biomedical Engineering at the University of Rochester.  For his Ph.D. thesis, he studied the role of actin in cell migration using a combination of mathematical modeling, live cell imaging, and digital image processing.  This work demonstrated that coordinated migration of fibroblast cells can arise from independently acting cells responding only to local physical signals, without biochemical or junctional signaling.  As a Sackler Scholar, Dr. Bindschadler is studying adenosine regulation of myocardial blood flow, and also developing quantitative models to enable clinical assessment of myocardial blood flow using dynamic CT scans, with the ultimate goal of reducing patient radiation dose.

Braden Brinkman, Ph.D., is working with mentors Fred Rieke Ph.D., professor of physiology and biophysics and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator, and Eric-Shea Brown, Ph.D., associate professor of applied mathematics. Dr. Brinkman’s work as a Sackler Scholar is focused on understanding how the brain encodes and processes information. Computation in the brain relies on understanding patterns of activity in large populations of neurons.  Such activity has the potential for to be enormously complex. Dr. Brinkman will explore how well simple models, grounded in fundamental circuit mechanisms, capture and predict this complexity — and the consequences for how sensory inputs are represented and transformed in neuronal circuitry.

Dr. Brinkman earned a B.Sc. in physics from Simon Fraser University. He graduated with a Ph.D. in physics from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in spring 2013, where he studied a range of statistical models of non-equilibrium systems, such as the effects of tides on earthquake triggering. Notable graduate awards he received include the University of Illinois Drickamer Research Fellowship and a Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada Postgraduate Scholarship.

Alberto Carignano, Ph.D., is working with Georg Seelig, Ph.D., Professor of Bioengineering, and Eric Klavins, Ph.D., professor of Electrical Engineering. Dr. Carignano earned a B.Sc. and a M.Sc. in Mathematics at the University of Torino, Italy, and a Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering at the University of Cambridge, UK. For his Ph.D. thesis, he studied the influence of Ca2+ signaling on the circadian clock of plants: this study was conducted alternating theoretical models, computational simulations and experimental validations. His work showed that Ca2+ signaling (such as drought or cold response) alters the expression of the core genes of the circadian clock. In particular, this work unveiled several components of the pathway that were previously unknown, and constitutes a step forward to understand how to engineer plants that better adapt to environmental cues. As a Sackler Scholar, Dr. Carignano is studying pattern formation in yeast. This project aims to explore the potential of biological systems to build programmable 2-D and 3-D synthetic structures, and will bring a better understanding of the processes that lead to organ and tissue formation.

Emilie Clemmens, Ph.D., is working with mentors Wendy Thomas, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Bioengineering, and Jose A. Lopez, M.D., Executive Vice President for Research at Puget Sound Blood Center and Professor of Medicine (Hematology) and Biochemistry at UW. Dr. Clemmens graduated summa cum laude from the University of Kentucky with a degree in chemical engineering. She earned a Ph.D. in 2003 from UW bioengineering, where she studied the contractile mechanics of cardiac and skeletal muscle. She later served as a Christine Mirzayan Science & Technology Policy Fellow at the National Academies in Washington D.C., in addition to starting a family and teaching biology at local colleges. As a Sackler Scholar, Dr. Clemmens is studying how the mechano-regulation of bloodstream enzymes regulates blood clotting.

Hannah DeBerg will work with William Zagotta, Ph.D., professor of physiology and biophysicsand a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator, and Stefan Stoll, Ph.D., assistant professor of chemistry. Ms. DeBerg earned a B.S. in physics and mathematics with an additional major in Spanish at the University of Arkansas. She will graduate with a Ph.D. in physics from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 2013. For her graduate thesis, she studied the effect of a phosphorylation site on the motor protein kinesin, which is associated with Huntington’s disease. For this study, she used single-molecule fluorescence and optical trapping techniques. As a Sackler Scholar, she will use double electron-electron resonance to investigate how nucleotide binding to cyclic-nucleotide-regulated channels promotes ion channel opening.

Jonathan Driver, Ph.D., is working with mentors Charles Asbury, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Physiology and Biophysics, and Sue Biggins, Ph.D., Member of the Basic Sciences Division at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. Jonathan earned a B.S. in Chemistry and a Ph.D. in Bioengineering, both from Rice University. For his PhD thesis, he studied cooperation among teams of molecular motors by engineering synthetic molecular scaffolds, with multiple motors linked via leucine zippers to a DNA backbone. He then measured the movements and forces generated by these structurally defined motor assemblies using a laser trap, showing that – contrary to the popular view – the number of motors does not strongly influence cargo movement. As a Sackler Scholar, Dr. Driver is studying how kinase enzymes prevent chromosome mis-segregation by regulating the attachment of chromosomes to the mitotic spindle.

Tom Erez, Ph.D., is working with mentors Emo Todorov, Ph.D., Associate professor of Applied Mathematics and Computer Science, and Tom Daniel, Ph.D., Professor of Biology. Dr. Erez graduated summa cum laude from Hebrew University with a degree in mathematics and earned his Ph.D. in computer science from Washington University in St. Louis. He also trained at the Institute for Scientific Exchange in Torino, Italy, and at the Santa Fe Institute. As a Sackler Scholar, Dr. Erez is investigating the mechanisms that underlie neural control of biological movement.

Zachary James, Ph.D., is working with mentors William Zagotta, Ph.D. (Department of Physiology and Biophysics) and Ning Zheng, Ph.D. (Department of Pharmacology, Howard Hughes Medical Institute). Dr. James earned his B.Sc. in biochemistry from University of Oregon in 2006. He then joined the graduate program in biophysics at University of Minnesota, completing his Ph.D. in 2013. As a graduate student, Zach used electron paramagnetic resonance (EPR) spectroscopy to study interactions between the sarcoplasmic reticulum Ca2+-ATPase and its regulatory partner phospholamban, which together govern cardiac muscle relaxation. As a Sackler Scholar, Zach is combining EPR spectroscopy and X-ray crystallography to investigate the structure of cyclic nucleotide-regulated ion channels, which are essential elements in physiological processes ranging from the detection of light and scent to the pacing of the heart.

Peilong Lu, Ph.D., is working with mentors David Baker, Ph.D., professor of Biochemistry and William Catterall, Ph.D., professor of Pharmacology.  Peilong earned his B.S. from The University of Science and Technology of China and his Ph.D. from Tsinghua University, both in Biological Sciences.  For his PhD work, he investigated the structures and mechanisms of several membrane proteins, including the Glutamate-GABA antiporter, GadC, from E. coli, the multi-pass transmembrane ascorbate-dependent oxidoreductase from Arabidopsis thaliana, and the human gamma-secretase complex.  As a Sackler Scholar, Dr. Lu will design and develop new generations of binders to voltage-gated sodium channels, and will characterize their effects on channel functions.

Jacob McPherson, Ph.D., is working with Steve Perlmutter, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Physiology and Biophysics, and Karl Bohringer, Ph.D., John M. Fluke Distinguished Chair of Engineering. Jacob earned a B.S. in Applied Sciences and Biomedical Engineering from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He then earned his Ph.D. in Biomedical Engineering at Northwestern University, where he used targeted neuropharmacology together with novel robotic devices to study the mechanisms that cause abnormalities in upper limb movement following stroke and cerebral palsy. As a Sackler Fellow, Dr. McPherson is developing flexible, bio-compatible electrode arrays and novel techniques for stimulating the central nervous system with the ultimate goal of enhancing motor rehabilitation following spinal cord injury.

Sarah Mondello, Ph.D., is jointly funded by the Sackler Scholars Program and the Center for Sensorimotor Neural Engineering (CSNE).  She is working with mentors Chet Moritz, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Physiology and Biophysics and Rehabilitation Medicine, and Philip Horner, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Neurological Surgery.  Dr. Mondello earned her B.A. in Psychology from McGill University and her Ph.D. in Neuroscience from the University of Florida where she studied the effects of Chondroitinase ABC on plasticity and locomotor recovery after spinal cord injury.  As a joint Sackler/CSNE Scholar, Dr. Mondello is continuing to work towards enhancing functional recovery after spinal cord injury by utilizing a novel, multifactorial approach incorporating brain-triggered stimulation of optogenetic stem cell transplants in the spinal cord after injury.

Thomas Portet, Ph.D., is working under the mentorship of Sarah Keller, Ph.D., Professor of Chemistry, and Sharona Gordon, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Physiology and Biophysics. Dr. Portet earned his Ph.D. in structural biology at the University of Toulouse and his diploma in engineering from the French Grande École Supélec. He was recognized with the prestigious Award for Young Researchers from the Fondation Bettencourt Schueller in 2010. As a Sackler Scholar, Dr. Portet is studying how lipid composition and phase separation affect membrane-embedded receptors.

Bettina Schnell, Ph.D., is working with Michael Dickinson, Ph.D., Benjamin Hall Endowed Chair in Basic Life Sciences, and Adrienne Fairhall, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Physiology and Biophysics. Dr. Schnell earned her diploma at the University of Würzburg and her Ph.D. in biology at the Max Planck Institute of Neurobiology in Munich. She is one of very few scientists in the world able to record the activity of single neurons in the brain of the fruit fly, Drosophila. As a Sackler Scholar, Dr. Schnell is studying how visual information is processed in the fly brain to ultimately control flight behavior.

Roie Shlomovitz, Ph.D., is working under the mentorship of Lutz Maibaum, Natt-Lingafelter assistant professor of chemistry and Michael Schick, PhD, professor of physics.  Dr. Shlomovitz studied Physics and Chemistry as an undergraduate at The Hebrew University and then earned his M. Sc. and Ph.D. in Physics at the Weizmann Institute of Science.  He was awarded the Lee A. Segel Prize in Theoretical Biology by the Weizman Institute in 2010.  For the past two years, he has been a postdoctoral researcher at UCLA in the departments of Chemistry & Biochemistry and Physics & Astronomy.  As a Sackler Scholar, Dr. Shlomowitz is pursuing his interest in lipid microdomains in cell membranes.  Lipid domains, called lipid rafts, are key elements in organizing transmembrane signaling in all cell types.  Dr. Sholomowitz uses statistical mechanics to explore various aspects of a model recently proposed by Dr. Schick.