Nine University of Chicago scholars named 2021 AAAS fellows

Nine University of Chicago researchers were named 2021 fellows of the American Association for the Advancement of Science for their distinguished contributions to the sciences.

Profs. Maria-Luisa Alegre, Edward Blucher, Michael Coates, Michael Franklin, Yoav Gilad, Jeanne C. Marsh, Marcelo A. Nóbrega, Phoebe A. Rice and Amanda Woodward were among the 564 fellows elected as AAAS members for their scientifically or socially distinguished efforts to advance science and its applications.

Maria-Luisa Alegre

Prof. Maria-Luisa Alegre 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.”

Edward Blucher

Prof. Edward Blucher is a particle physicist who studies an elusive particle called the neutrino. Until this year he served as co-spokesperson for the Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment or DUNE, an ambitious experiment to detect neutrinos sent 800 miles through the earth underground from Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Illinois to Sanford Underground Research Laboratory in South Dakota.

Blucher formerly served as co-spokesperson of the Kaons at the Tevatron collaboration at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, which in 1999 made the most definitive observation to date of the unbalanced decay of subatomic matter and anti-matter. This process, called direct charge-parity violation, may hold the key to understanding the very existence of matter in the universe.

In 2004, Blucher and his colleagues solved a 20-year-old puzzle regarding how some quarks interact in the beta decay of particles, a common form of radioactivity—which has helped to reinforce the scientific understanding of the weak nuclear force, one of the four fundamental forces of nature.

The AAAS cited his “distinguished contributions to numerous experiments in the field of particle physics addressing fundamental topics and for scientific leadership to the particle physics community.”

Michael Coates

Prof. Michael Coates’ 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.”

Michael Franklin

Michael J. Franklin is the inaugural holder of the Liew Family Chair of Computer Science. An authority on databases, data analytics, data management and distributed systems, he also serves as Senior Advisor to the Provost on Computation and Data Science and is faculty co-director of the Data Science Institute.

Previously, Franklin was on the faculty at the University of California, Berkeley, where he was Thomas M. Siebel Professor of Computer Science and served a term as chair of the Computer Science Division. He was director of the Algorithms, Machines and People Laboratory (AMPLab) and was principal investigator of the lab’s National Science Foundation CISE "Expeditions in Computing" award. 

He is one of the original creators of Apache Spark, a leading open source platform for data analytics and machine learning that was developed at the lab.

The AAAS cited his “outstanding research contributions with a focus on the creation and direction of AMPLab.”

Yoav Gilad

Prof. Yoav Gilad 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.”

Jeanne C. Marsh

Jeanne C. Marsh is the George Herbert Jones Distinguished Service Professor in the Crown Family School of Social Work, Policy, and Practice. She also directs the Center for Health Administration Studies.

Marsh’s research has focused on health disparities, the intersection of multiple service systems, the relation of service delivery to treatment outcome, and knowledge utilization in practice and program decision making.

She is being recognized by AAAS “for distinguished contributions to social work research in the areas of substance abuse service delivery, services for women and children and social program and policy evaluation.”

Marcelo A. Nóbrega

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.”

Phoebe A. Rice

Prof. Phoebe A. Rice 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.”

Amanda Woodward

Amanda Woodward, dean of the Division of the Social Sciences and the William S. Gray Distinguished Service Professor of Psychology, focuses on social understanding in infants and the processes behind early life conceptual development.

Currently, she is investigating the sensitivity of infants to interpersonal social structure, the effects that cultural and community contexts have upon children’s social learning strategies, and neural processes of early social-cognitive development.

She was recognized “for pathbreaking contributions to understanding the development from infancy of the human mind, and for service to the growth of the science of social cognition.”