School of Science appoints eight faculty members to named professorships

The School of Science announced that eight of its faculty members have been appointed to named professorships. These positions afford the faculty members additional support to pursue their research and develop their careers.

Eliezer Calo, assistant professor in the Department of Biology, has been named the Irwin W. and Helen Sizer Career Development Professor. He focuses on the coordination of RNA metabolism using a combination of genetic, biochemical, and functional genomic approaches. The core of Calo’s research program is to understand how ribosome biogenesis is controlled by specific RNA binding proteins, particularly RNA helicases of the “DEAD box” family, and how disregulation of ribosome biogenesis contributes to various diseases, including cancer. He proposes initially to characterize the functions of specific genes of interest, including the DDX21 RNA helicase and the TCOF1 factor involved in RNA Pol I transcription and rRNA processing, using biochemical, molecular and genome-wide approaches in mouse, Xenopus and Zebrafish models.

Steven Flavell, assistant professor in the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, has been named the Lister Brothers Career Development Professor. He uses Caenorhabditis elegans to examine how neuromodulators coordinate activity in neural circuits to generate locomotion behaviors linked to the feeding or satiety states of an animal. His long-term goal is to understand how neural circuits generate sustained behavioral states, and how physiological and environmental information is integrated into these circuits. Gaining a mechanistic understanding of how these circuits function will be essential to decipher the neural bases of sleep and mood disorders.

Pablo Jarillo-Herrero, the Cecil and Ida Green Professor of Physics, explores quantum transport in novel condensed-matter systems such as graphene, transition metal dichalcogenides and topological insulators. In recent work, he has demonstrated the presence of a bandgap in graphene-based van der Waals heterostructures, novel quantum spin Hall and photothermoelectric effects in graphene, as well as light-emitting diodes, photodetectors and solar cells in the atomically thin tungsten diselenide system. He has also made advances in characterizing and manipulating the properties of other ultrathin materials such as ultrathin graphite and molybdenum disulphide, which lack graphene’s ultrarelativistic properties, but possess other unusual electronic properties.

Becky Lamason, assistant professor in the Department of Biology, has been named the Robert A. Swanson (1969) Career Development Professor of Life Sciences. She investigates how intracellular bacterial pathogens hijack host cell processes to promote infection. In particular, she studies how Rickettsia parkeri and Listeria monocytogenes move through tissues via a process called cell-to-cell spread. She utilizes cellular, molecular, genetic, biochemical, and biophysical approaches to elucidate the mechanisms of spread in order to reveal key aspects of pathogenesis and host cell biology.

Rebecca Saxe, the inaugural John W. Jarve (1978) Professor in Brain and Cognitive Sciences, is best known for her discovery of a brain region that is specialized for “theory of mind,” people’s ability to think about the thoughts, beliefs, plans, hopes and emotions of other people. Saxe continues to study this region and its role in social cognition, and is exploring the theory-of-mind system as a promising candidate for understanding the biological basis of autism. She also studies brain development in human babies, including her own.

Omer Yilmaz, assistant professor in the Department of Biology, has been named the Eisen and Chang Career Development Professor. He studies how the adult intestine is maintained by stem cells that require a cellular neighborhood, or niche, consisting in part of Paneth cells. Specifically, he investigates the molecular mechanisms of how intestinal stem cells and their Paneth cell niche respond to diverse diets to coordinate intestinal regeneration with organismal physiology and its impact on the formation and growth of intestinal cancers. By better understanding how intestinal stem cells adapt to diverse diets, he hopes to identify and develop new strategies that prevent and reduce the growth of cancers involving the intestinal tract that includes the small intestine, colon, and rectum.

Yufei Zhao, assistant professor in the Department of Mathematics, has been named the Class of 1956 Career Development Professor. He has made significant contributions in combinatorics with applications to computer science. Recently, Zhao and three undergraduates solved an open problem concerning the number of independent sets in an irregular graph, a conjecture first proposed in 2001. Understanding the number of independent sets — subsets of vertices where no two vertices are adjacent — is important to solving many other combinatorial problems. In other research accomplishments, Zhao co-authored a proof with Jacob Fox and David Conlon that contributed to a better understanding of the celebrated Green-Tao theorem that states prime numbers contain arbitrarily long arithmetic progressions. Their work improves our understanding of pseudorandom structures — non-random objects with random-like properties — and has other applications in mathematics and computer science.

Martin Zwierlein, the inaugural Thomas A. Frank (1977) Professor of Physics, studies ultracold gases of atoms and molecules. These gases host novel states of matter and serve as pristine model systems for other systems in nature, such as neutron stars or high-temperature superconductors. In contrast to bulk materials, in experiments with cold gases one can freely tune the interaction between atoms and make it as strong as quantum mechanics allows. This enabled the observation of a novel robust form of superfluidity: Scaled to the density of electrons in solids, superfluidity would in fact occur far above room temperature. Under a novel quantum gas microscope with single-atom resolution, the team recently studied charge and spin correlations and transport in a Fermi-Hubbard lattice gas. This system is believed to hold the key to high-temperature superconductivity in cuprate materials. Using ultracold molecules, Zwierlein’s group also demonstrated coherence times on the order of seconds, spurring hopes for the future use of such molecules in quantum information applications.

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