UW Women's Center

Usha Varanasi, PhD

usha varanasiWoman of Courage 

Dr. Varanasi is a Distinguished Scholar in Residence in the College of the Environment and an Affiliate Professor of Fishery, Chemistry and Law at the University of Washington, and serves as a member of the Executive Board for the Washington State Academy of Science. She has dedicated her career to applying chemistry to critical biological questions, advancing scientific understanding and improving regulatory, management, and public policy decisions. 

Her research on how marine organisms process contaminants revolutionized the field and led to the development of techniques now used by NOAA.  These methods inform the impacts of oil-related pollution on fisheries resources and ensure that seafood is safe for human consumption.

Furthermore, Dr. Varanasi was the first woman to lead a NOAA fisheries field office as the Science and Research Director of the Northwest Fisheries Science Center, and has served as the Inaugural Director of NOAA’s West Coast Center of Excellence for Ocean and Human Health. She has received multiple awards for her groundbreaking work, including the 2000 U.S. Presidential Rank Award for Meritorious Service, the DOC Gold Medal, an Honorable Mention as a “History Maker” for NOAA, and a Proclamation from the Washington State Governor honoring her protection and stewardship of the coastal and marine resources.

Dr. Varanasi was born in Bassien, Burma and received a Bachelor of Science in Chemistry/Physics from Bombay University. She came to the US at the age of 20 on a tuition scholarship to California Institute of Technology, one of only seven female students and the first Indian woman to receive this scholarship.

Beyond her obvious passion for science, Usha is deeply committed to mentoring students and young scientists to become the next generation of environmental leaders.