Faculty Honors & Awards

Vicky Prince 06/17/2022

The Biological Sciences Division honored faculty members for research excellence, professional service, and leadership at the 12th Annual Distinguished Faculty Awards Reception, hosted in person for the first time since 2019 on June 6, 2022. Since 2011, the BSD Faculty Advisory Committee (FAC) has been honoring fellow faculty members for their contributions to the BSD's collective missions of excellence in education, research, diversity and inclusion, program innovation, service to the community and patient care.

Kenneth S. Polonsky, MD, Dean of the Division of the Biological Sciences and the Pritzker School of Medicine, Executive Vice President for Medical Affairs, presided over the reception and presented awards to 19 faculty members who were nominated by their colleagues, former trainees, and community partners. "It is a great honor to be recognized by one’s peers, and these awards represent the spirit of mutual respect and collegiality among our faculty," Polonsky said.

UChicago Biosciences Award winners included Victoria Prince, PhD, Professor of Organismal Biology and Anatomy, who received the Francis Straus Mentorship Award. The Francis H. Straus Mentorship Award honors the memory of Dr. Francis H. Straus II, MD ’57, SM ’64 as a mentor of students, residents, and fellows during his many years as a faculty member. Award recipients, as well as their Departments, receive a cash prize. Vicky was nominated for the award by former Prince mentee Crystal Love  DRSB PhD 2014, and Developmental Biology T32 alums, Kacy Gordon, Integrative Biology PhD 2014, and Ariel Pani, EvBio PhD 2013.

06/17/2022

The Biological Sciences Division honored faculty members for research excellence, professional service, and leadership at the 12th Annual Distinguished Faculty Awards Reception, hosted in person for the first time since 2019 on June 6, 2022. Since 2011, the BSD Faculty Advisory Committee (FAC) has been honoring fellow faculty members for their contributions to the BSD's collective missions of excellence in education, research, diversity and inclusion, program innovation, service to the community and patient care.

Kenneth S. Polonsky, MD, Dean of the Division of the Biological Sciences and the Pritzker School of Medicine, Executive Vice President for Medical Affairs, presided over the reception and presented awards to 19 faculty members who were nominated by their colleagues, former trainees, and community partners. "It is a great honor to be recognized by one’s peers, and these awards represent the spirit of mutual respect and collegiality among our faculty," Polonsky said.

Yingming Zhao, PhD, Professor in the Ben May Department of Cancer Research and UChicago Biosciences Cancer Biology, Metabolism and GGSB faculty, was recognized as a Distinguished Investigator for research excellence.

David Kovar

Photo by Anne Ryan

06/02/2022

The University annually recognizes faculty for exceptional teaching and mentoring of undergraduate and graduate students through the Llewellyn John and Harriet Manchester Quantrell Awards, believed to be the nation’s oldest prize for undergraduate teaching, and the Faculty Awards for Excellence in Graduate Teaching and Mentoring, which honor faculty for their work with graduate students. Two UChicago Biosciences faculty were recognized this year, Graduate Dean, Professor David Kovar and Professor Chuan He.

Quantrell Award

Among five faculty selected for the Quantrell award, Prof. Kovar likens his approach to science and teaching to his love of sports: “I view sports, my science, and mentoring of students in the same light—we need to work together and help each other. That’s the way to make the most progress.”

It’s no surprise that Kovar thinks in terms of cooperation. As a cell biologist, he studies the actin cytoskeleton, a network of proteins that link together to perform all kinds of tasks in the cytoplasm of cells. These networks are incredibly complicated, constantly reconfiguring themselves according to need. Functioning properly requires the perfect combination of many factors that change as networks self-organize and interact with each other—not all that different from a full classroom or a busy lab.

Pulling off that kind of organization is a difficult feat in “Fundamentals of Cell and Molecular Biology,” the introductory course Kovar co-teaches for first-year undergraduates. As an active researcher and Dean for Graduate Affairs in the Biological Sciences Division, Kovar is used to working with Ph.D. students over several years to develop their scientific abilities. With more than 275 students in the fundamentals course, time is precious, and it can be an immense challenge to condense an entire cell biology textbook into a handful of 50-minute lectures.

But the payoff is well worth it, he said: “There is little more rewarding than imparting excitement for a subject to undergraduate students. I realize that I’m far from the smartest person in the room when teaching to our amazing undergraduates at UChicago, but at the very least I can pass along my excitement and enthusiasm for cell biology.”

Graduate Teaching and Mentoring Award

In Prof. Chuan He’s field of chemical biology and biochemistry, advances are made so rapidly that the discipline itself can be completely revolutionized in less than a decade—which is both an opportunity and a challenge.

“Every five to 10 years, you have to reinvent yourself,” he said. “That’s the mentality I want my students to have, so we are constantly exploring new things. If you want your students to think out of the box, you have to create that environment.”

He’s lab is well-known for its liveliness and diversity, bringing together students with backgrounds in different kinds of science and walks of life. With more than 40 trainees, the lab is large by academic standards; He turns that into an advantage by pairing together senior and junior students, as well as those with different strengths.

“I try to have every student on two or more projects so that they can taste different fields of biology or chemistry—which means they are learning new things and producing different results,” he said. “I hope to expose them to the landscape of science. They need to see the entire spectrum and see what excites them the most.”

This balance of collaboration and independence struck his students, who wrote to praise He’s “balance of supportive mentorship and academic freedom.” One noted He’s “ability of getting students excited about a research question and giving them the freedom, guidance and confidence to explore [it]. … I always felt that he trusted me and respected my opinion.”

Despite the volume and scope of He’s work, his students also mentioned his open-door policy and his dedication to furthering their careers by introducing them at conferences and recommending them to write journal reviews or comments in their field.

“Entering Chuan’s lab,” one student wrote, “was, without a doubt, the best decision I have made.”

University announces 2022 winners of Quantrell and Graduate Teaching Awards, Matt Wood et al, UChicago News, May 26, 2022.

Maria Luisa Alegre 01/26/2022

Prof. Maria-Luisa Alegre (Cancer Biology, Immunolgy, Metabolism) explores the molecular mechanisms involved in transplant success or failure. She studies the role of immune T cells in transplant rejection and tolerance, autoimmune disorders, and cancer. For example, her lab found that infections or inflammation can interfere with transplant success by activating T cells that can reject the organ. She also found that the microbiota influences how the immune system responds to transplanted organs—and can be targeted to prolong the survival of the graft.

She is being recognized by AAAS for “distinguished contributions at the interface of basic immunology and transplantation science and therapeutic modalities for transplantation.”

Read the full story "Nine University of Chicago scholars named 2021 AAAS fellows" published January 26, 2022

Mike Coates 01/26/2022

Prof. Michael Coates’ (Evolutionary Biology, Integrative Biology) research focuses on early vertebrate diversity and evolution, the reconstruction of evolutionary patterns and processes, and uses of fossils and systematic methods in evolutionary developmental biology. 

His lab is interested in the origin and early radiation of tetrapods, the origin of a tetrapod body plan, the fin-to-limb evolutionary transition, primitive shark-like fishes and the early evolutionary radiation of jawed fishes, and the evolution of ray-finned fishes. This work integrates traditional fossil research techniques with genetic sequence data and new imaging and visualization technologies, including CT scanning and 3D printing.

The AAAS cited his “distinguished contribution to the field of vertebrate paleontology, particularly for original studies on phylogenies and morphological evolution of jawed vertebrates, and on evolution of tetrapods from lobe-finned ancestry.”

Read the full story "Nine University of Chicago scholars named 2021 AAAS fellows" published January 26, 2022

01/26/2022

Prof. Yoav Gilad (DRSB, GGSB, Human Genetics, Immunology) is the dean for Biomedical and Health Informatics at UChicago. As dean, Gilad focuses on the development and oversight of a strategic and forward-looking core facility to provide state-of-the-art research-informatics services, expert consultation, and flexible models to support collaboration with faculty. 

Trained as a molecular and evolutionary geneticist, he began his research career investigating the correlation between DNA sequence variation and disease.

His lab now studies human disease and evolution using cutting-edge empirical and computational genomic techniques, focused on understanding the genetics of complex phenotypes and the potential for personalized medicine using genomic sequencing, genome informatics, and functional genomics tools.

The AAAS recognized him for “pioneering contributions in comparative transcriptomics studies and seminal contributions to our understanding of regulatory mechanisms and their contributions to human common disease.”

Read the full story "Nine University of Chicago scholars named 2021 AAAS fellows" published January 26, 2022

01/26/2022

Prof. Marcelo Nóbrega serves as chair of the UChicago Committee on Genetics, Genomics and Systems Biology. His research aims to understand the mechanisms by which genetic variation in noncoding sequences increases the risk of human diseases. These mutations presumably affect regulatory switches that control the function of genes, resulting in increased risk to a host of common human diseases such as congenital heart defects, heart failure, cancer, Type 2 diabetes, obesity, asthma and preterm birth–all of which have been modeled in the Nóbrega lab.

His goal is to use the same suite of tools and approaches developed over the past decade in his lab to tackle the challenges of developing predictive disease risk scores based on noncoding mutations in the human genome.

His AAAS recognition cites “pioneering contributions to characterizing the function of regulatory genetic variation contributing to human disease.”

Read the full story "Nine University of Chicago scholars named 2021 AAAS fellows" published January 26, 2022

01/26/2022

Prof. Phoebe A. Rice (Biochemistry & Molecular BiophysicsMicrobiology) seeks to understand fundamental biological questions such as how DNA is rearranged; how proteins interact with DNA; and how mobile genetic elements jump. Her lab uses biochemistry, microbiology, and structural biology to piece together what happens at the molecular level. For example, their studies of different DNA recombinases have elucidated the elegant mechanisms used by microbes to cut and paste their own DNA. In their studies of how the bug MRSA acquired its drug resistance, they discovered unexpected genes for self-replication and a new way in which DNA synthesis can be initiated.

She is being recognized by the AAAS for “pioneering research in structural biology investigations of mechanisms of DNA bending and structural biology in microorganisms.”

Read the full story "Nine University of Chicago scholars named 2021 AAAS fellows" published January 26, 2022

Sally Horne-Badonovic 05/20/2021

Dr. Sally Horne-Badonovic, Cell and Molecular Biology and Development Regeneration and Stem Cell Biology, was awarded the Quantrell Award for excellence in undergraduate teaching. 

A developmental biologist by training, Horne-Badovinac strives to inspire the same sense of awe she felt when she first learned about the subject, which is the science of how cells divide and differentiate to form tissues, organs and organisms. “I remember it was a mind-opening experience,” she said.

Horne-Badovinac hopes to elicit similar feelings from her own students: “I want them to come away with a sense of wonder about development."

04/28/2021

Zeresenay “Zeray” Alemseged, Evolutionary Biology and Integrative Biology, has been elected as a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Alemseged is a paleoanthropologist studying human evolution. His research methods span extensive fieldwork and cutting-edge imaging techniques to discover and analyze the processes and mechanisms that led to the emergence of Homo sapiens. While leading the Dikika Research Project in Ethiopia, Alemseged discovered and analyzed the fossilized remains of a 3.3-million-year-old child of the species Australopithecus afarensis—the most complete skeleton of a human ancestor discovered to date. This and other findings by Alemseged represent major advancements in our understanding and have changed the textbooks on human evolution.

Dr. Alemseged will join other American Academy members from around the world in arts and sciences, business, philanthropy and public affairs, to collaborate on advancing the public good. Please join us in congratulating him on this important honor.

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