Camille-Dreyfus Award

Luisa Whittaker-Brooks recognized with the Camillle-Dreyfus Teacher Scholar Award


Luisa Whittaker-Brooks, an assistant professor in the department of chemistry, is among 16 early career chemists named as a 2021 Camille Dreyfus Teacher-Scholar. Selected by the Camille and Henry Dreyfus Foundation, Camille Dreyfus Teacher-Scholars receive an unrestricted $100,000 research grant.

“I was actually having a meeting with my undergraduate students when I received a text message from my Ph.D. advisor with the news,” Whittaker-Brooks says. “The only thing I could think about after the text was how instrumental my undergrads were in getting this award.”

Camille Dreyfus Teacher-Scholars, according to the Dreyfus Foundation, “are within the first five years of their academic careers, have each created an outstanding independent body of scholarship, and are deeply committed to education.”

Whittaker-Brooks’ award cites her research in “designer hybrid organic-inorganic interfaces for coherent spin and energy transfer.” Her research group, their website says, is “driven by two of the greatest challenges of our time –sustainable energy and low cost electronics for daily use applications. We plan to embark in these new endeavors by synthesizing and elucidating the functional properties of well-defined and high-quality materials for applications in photovoltaics, thermoelectrics, batteries, spintronics, and electronics.”

Story originally published in @theU

NAS Membership

mary beckerle elected to the national academy of science


The National Academy of Sciences has elected Mary Beckerle, PhD, Huntsman Cancer Institute (HCI) CEO and distinguished professor of biology and oncological sciences at the University of Utah (U of U), as a member. Beckerle is among 120 newly elected members announced in a press release during the annual meeting of the National Academy of Sciences.

Election as a member in this organization is widely accepted as a mark of excellence in scientific achievement and is considered one of the highest honors a scientist can receive. Of its more than 2,400 current members, approximately 190 have received a Nobel Prize, according to the National Academy of Sciences.

Beckerle shared she was “very surprised” to learn of her election to the prestigious group. She received a phone call this morning from a member of the National Academy of Sciences informing her of her election. Within minutes, she then received a flood of phone calls, emails, and text messages from colleagues congratulating her. “It was the most connected I have felt to my scientific community since the pandemic began, and it was lovely to be in touch with so many colleagues from around the world,” added Beckerle.

Beckerle’s research discovered a new pathway that is crucial in enabling cells to respond to mechanical signals in their environment. Such signals are now known to regulate cell growth and movement, two behaviors that yield critical insights into cancer biology. The Beckerle Lab is currently focused on understanding the molecular mechanisms underlying this pathway and its impact on tumor progression, particularly in Ewing sarcoma, a rare but deadly bone cancer that typically affects children and young adults.

“Dr. Beckerle’s election to the National Academy of Sciences affirms what her colleagues see every day. She is a driving force as an individual scientist, yet Dr. Beckerle’s hallmark is collaborative leadership that allows teams of scientists to achieve more together than they ever could alone,” said Michael L. Good, MD, University of Utah interim president and CEO of University of Utah Health. In addition to leading HCI, Beckerle holds the Jon M. Huntsman Presidential Endowed Chair and also serves as associate vice president for cancer affairs at the U of U. Beckerle is only the 27th faculty member in the history of the U of U to be elected to the National Academy of Sciences.

Beckerle joined the U of U faculty in 1986, when she set up her first independent laboratory as a young scientist. Prior to coming to Utah, she earned her PhD in molecular, cellular, and developmental biology from the University of Colorado at Boulder, where she received a Danforth Fellowship. She completed postdoctoral research at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and received a Guggenheim Fellowship for her studies at the Curie Institute in Paris.

She has received numerous accolades for her research, including the National Cancer Institute Knudsen Prize in recognition of her contributions to research on the genetic basis of cancer. She is also an elected fellow of other distinguished scientific organizations, including the American Philosophical Society, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the Academy of the American Association for Cancer Research.  She served as President of the American Society for Cell Biology and is a member of the Medical Advisory Board of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

As CEO of HCI, she led the organization to achieve its first-ever designation as a National Cancer Institute-Designated Comprehensive Cancer Center, the highest possible status of a cancer research institute. She also has led HCI’s clinical programs to recognition as among the nation’s Best Cancer Hospitals, according to U.S. News and World Report. Beckerle was appointed as a member of then-Vice President Biden’s Cancer Moonshot Blue Ribbon Panel, where she co-chaired the working group on Precision Prevention and Early Detection.

“It is an incredible honor to be named alongside exceptionally talented colleagues who are part of the National Academy of Sciences,” said Beckerle. “Scientific research is fascinating and motivating work, yet as a scientist, I often feel impatient. Each day, I work with the understanding that people are counting on the scientific community to make discoveries that will improve health, develop better treatments for diseases, enhance quality of life, and, wherever possible, prevent development of diseases like cancer. It is deeply humbling to see my contributions, and those of the many people who have worked in my lab over several decades, recognized in this way. My sincere hope is that the work of my research team will contribute to Huntsman Cancer Institute’s vision of delivering a cancer-free frontier.”

Beckerle adds that the National Academy of Sciences has a major impact in shaping science policy. She looks forward to the opportunity to contribute to the national dialogue on how to advance scientific innovation and impact via her role as a member of this organization.

first published by Ashlee Harrison of Huntsman Cancer Institute in @theU

AAAS Membership

Valeria Molinero elected to the american academy of arts and sciences


Valeria Molinero, Distinguished Professor and Jack and Peg Simons Endowed Professor of Theoretical Chemistry, is among the 252 newly elected members of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. The Academy honors excellence and convenes leaders from every field of human endeavor to examine new ideas, address issues of importance to the nation and the world and work together.

Among those joining Molinero in the Class of 2021 are neuroscientist and CNN medical correspondent Sanjay K. Gupta, Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones of the New York Times and media entrepreneur Oprah Winfrey.

Molinero joins 16 other members affiliated with the U, including Nobel laureate Mario Capecchi, Huntsman Cancer Institute CEO Mary Beckerle and Distinguished Professor of Anthropology Kristen Hawkes. The U’s first member was chemist and National Medal of Science recipient Henry Eyring, elected in 1958. Molinero currently directs a center for theoretical chemistry named for Eyring.

“I am surprised and elated by this recognition,” Molinero said. “My most pervasive feeling is gratitude:  to my trainees and collaborators for sharing with me the joy of science and discovery, to my colleagues and scientific community for their encouragement and recognition, and to the University of Utah for the support that has provided me throughout all my independent career.”

Molinero and her lab use computational simulations to understand the molecule-by-molecule process of how ice forms and how polymers, proteins and other compounds can either aid or inhibit the formation of ice. In 2019, the U awarded her its Distinguished Scholarly and Creative Research Award. In 2020, she and her colleagues received the Cozzarelli Prize from the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences for finding that the smallest nanodroplet of water that can form ice is around 90 molecules. Their research has application ranging from climate modeling to achieving the perfect texture of ice cream.

“This is not surprising, as Vale is just an outstanding scientist and colleague,” said Matt Sigman, chemistry department chair.

“Vale Molinero is among the most influential theoretical and computational chemists of her generation,” said Peter Trapa, dean of the College of Science. “ Today’s announcement is a fitting recognition of her exceptional career.”

The College of Science now features eight Academy members, including five from the Department of Chemistry.

The Academy was founded in 1780 by John Adams, John Hancock and others who believed the new republic should honor exceptionally accomplished individuals and engage them in advancing the public good. Studies compiled by the Academy have helped set the direction of research and analysis in science and technology policy, global security and international affairs, social policy, education and the humanities.

Current Academy members represent today’s innovative thinkers in every field and profession, including more than 250 Nobel and Pulitzer Prize winners.

first published by Paul Gabrielson in @theU

Sloan Research Fellow

LUISA WHITTAKER-BROOKS AWARDED PRESTIGIOUS SLOAN AWARD


Assistant Professor of Chemistry Luisa Whittaker-Brooks is one of the recipients of the prestigious 2021 Sloan Research Fellowship, given to researchers “whose creativity, innovation, and research accomplishments make them stand out as the next generation of scientific leaders.”

The awards are open to scholars in eight scientific and technical fields: chemistry, computational and evolutionary molecular biology, computer science, Earth system science, economics, mathematics, neuroscience and physics. Candidates must be nominated by their fellow scientists, and winners are selected by independent panels of senior scholars on the basis of a candidate’s research accomplishments, creativity and potential to become a leader in his or her field. More than 1000 researchers are nominated each year for 128 fellowship slots. Winners receive a two-year, $75,000 fellowship which can be spent to advance the fellow’s research.

Whittaker-Brooks, a 2007 Fulbright fellow, earned her doctorate from the State University of New York at Buffalo before a L’Oreal USA for Women in Science Postdoctoral fellowship at Princeton University. Among other awards, Whittaker-Brooks has received a Department of Energy Early Career Award, a Cottrell Research Scholarship, a Marion Milligan Mason Award for Women in the Chemical Sciences and was named one of C&EN’s Talented 12 in 2018.

“I was very excited as this award is a testament to all the great work that my students have accomplished throughout these years,” Whittaker-Brooks said. “I am happy to see that their endless creativity and research work ethics are highly recognized in the field.”

Her research studies the properties and fabrication processes of nanomaterials for potential applications in solar energy conversion, thermoelectrics, batteries and electronics. She and her research group are also testing hybrid concepts to simultaneously integrate multiple functions, such as a nanosystem that scavenges its own energy.

The Fellowship is funded by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, a not-for-profit dedicated to improving the welfare of all through the advancement of scientific knowledge. Founded in 1934 by industrialist Alfred P. Sloan Jr., the foundation disburses about $80 million in grants each year in four areas: for research in science, technology, engineering, mathematics and economics; initiatives to increase the quality and diversity of scientific institutions and the science workforce; projects to develop or leverage technology to empower research and efforts to enhance and deepen public engagement with science and scientists.

Since the first fellowships were awarded in 1955, 44 faculty from University of Utah have received a Sloan Research Fellowship.

 

first published @ chem.utah.edu