University of Washington: Five UW faculty members elected to the National Academy of Sciences

Five faculty members at the University of Washington are among 120 new members and 30 international members elected to the National Academy of Sciences. The new members include 59 women, the most chosen in a single year, according to an April 26 announcement by the academy.

The five new members from the UW are:

Anna Karlin, professor of computer science and engineering
Rachel Klevit, professor of biochemistry
Randall LeVeque, professor emeritus of applied mathematics
Julie Theriot, professor of biology
Rachel Wong, professor of biological structure

Anna Karlin

Karlin, who holds the Bill and Melinda Gates Chair in the Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science & Engineering, works in theoretical computer science. She earned a bachelor’s degree in applied mathematics and a doctoral degree in computer science at Stanford University. Before joining the UW faculty in 1994, she worked for five years at what was then the Digital Equipment Corporation’s Systems Research Center. At the UW, Karlin is a member of the Theory of Computation group in the Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science & Engineering. Her research centers on designing and analyzing certain types of algorithms — such as probabilistic algorithms, which incorporate a degree of chance or randomness, and online algorithms, which can handle input delivered in a step-by-step manner. Karlin also works in algorithmic game theory, a field that merges algorithm design with considerations of strategic behavior. Her studies have also intersected other disciplines, including economics and data mining. In 2016, she was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Learn more about the UW School of Medicine’s new NAS members here.

Rachel Klevit

Klevit, who holds the Edmond H. Fischer-Washington Research Foundation Endowed Chair in Biochemistry, studies molecular recognition, particularly how proteins interact in human diseases. One of her laboratory’s efforts is to study the large, multifunctional protein produced by the BRCA1 gene, which when carrying certain mutations can predispose people to inherited forms of breast and other cancers. Klevit’s group also studies small heat shock proteins, which are implicated in certain muscle wasting diseases and some cancers. Cells manufacture these under stress due to heat, lack of oxygen and changes in acidity or alkalinity. Klevit’s team uses different nuclear magnetic resonance approaches to understand the structure and functions of these proteins, which have been difficult to solve. Klevit and her team also use NMR to study a sensor enzyme critical to bacterial virulence. This enzyme responds to environmental signals, such as the presence of antimicrobials, by turning on or off genes involved in infection. Klevit won a Rhodes Scholarship in 1978 — a year after the program was open to women — to study at Oxford University, where she earned a doctoral degree in chemistry in 1981.

Randall LeVeque

LeVeque, who earned a doctoral degree in computer science at Stanford University, came to the UW in 1985 after postdoctoral positions at New York University and the University of California, Los Angeles. While at UW, he was also briefly a faculty member at ETH Zürich. LeVeque’s mathematical research has spanned a variety of topics related to numerical algorithms for solving the partial differential equations that model wave propagation phenomena. He has also developed extensive open source software based on this research. LeVeque’s mathematical and computational studies have impacted fields ranging from biophysics to astrophysics. Much of his recent work has focused on modeling geological hazards, particularly tsunamis, and he is part of an interdisciplinary team performing hazard assessments for the coast of the Pacific Northwest. LeVeque has also taught extensively and authored several textbooks. He is a data science fellow at the UW eScience Institute, and was previously elected a fellow of both the American Mathematical Society and the Society of Industrial and Applied Mathematics.

Julie Theriot

Theriot, who holds the Benjamin D. Hall Endowed Chair in Basic Life Sciences and is an investigator with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, came to the UW in 2018 after 21 years as a faculty member at Stanford University. She earned a doctoral degree in cell biology from the University of California, San Francisco, and was a fellow at the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research before heading to Stanford. Theriot’s research centers on the dynamic world within cells. Her work explores how cells self-organize to perform tasks — like change shape, move, respond to stimuli, and shuttle items through their interiors. Theriot has investigated these questions in a variety of biological settings, such as how white blood cells crawl through our bodies and engulf invading microbes, how fish skin heals wounds, and how the bacterial pathogen Listeria monocytogenes rearranges the proteins of the human cell’s “skeleton.” She employs many types of experimental approaches, from mathematical modeling to video-based analyses of cellular movements. Theriot has received fellowships from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the David and Lucile Packard Foundation.

Rachel Wong

Wong, who is chair of the Department of Biological Structure, studies how the circuitries of nerve cells develop, break and reassemble. Her research model is the vertebrate retina, the part of the eye that receives light and converts it into signals sent to the brain. Her team applies a diversity of methods to investigate the structure and connectivity of nerve cells in normal and altered retinas, such as tracking changes in zebrafish retinal neurons from the time they first appear until they form circuits and investigating how retinal neurons rewire during cellular regeneration. In addition, Wong’s team constructs detailed connectivity maps of neurons in the inner and outer retina, and researches how the transmission of nerve signals helps establish and maintain connectivity between retinal neurons. She is collaborating to study how the eyes encode a visual scene. Wong earned her doctoral degree from the Australian National University, and serves on the steering committee for the National Eye Institute’s Audacious Goals Initiative for Regenerative Medicine, which seeks to restore vision lost from damage to the retina and optic nerve.

Julie Overbaugh, a professor of human biology and of public health sciences at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, was also elected to the academy. Overbaugh is an affiliate UW professor of microbiology.

With these new members, the National Academy of Sciences now has 2,461 active members, as well as 511 international members, who are nonvoting and hold citizenship outside of the U.S.

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