UW News

April 23, 2020

UW president, biochemistry chair and mathematics professor named to American Academy of Arts and Sciences

Three University of Washington faculty members, including President Ana Mari Cauce, are among the 2020 fellows of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, one of the nation’s oldest and most prestigious honorary societies. Trisha Davis, professor and chair of biochemistry at the UW School of Medicine, and Tatiana Toro, the Craig McKibben and Sarah Merner Professor of Mathematics, are also among the 276 artists, scholars, scientists, and leaders in the public, non-profit and private sectors who were announced as new fellows Thursday.

“We congratulate these incoming members of the Academy for excelling in a broad array of fields; we want to celebrate them and learn from them,” said Nancy C. Andrews, chair of the Board of Directors of the American Academy. “When Academy members come together, bringing their expertise and insights to our work, they help develop new insights and potential solutions for some of the most complex challenges we face.”

Cauce – who was named to the Educational and Academic Leadership section of the Academy’s Public Affairs, Business and Administration class – became the 33rd president of the UW on Oct. 13, 2015 after serving as interim president for seven months and having previously served as provost and executive vice president.

Throughout her career, Cauce has championed access to higher education, including through the Husky Promise, which provides full tuition to eligible Washington students who otherwise could not attend college. As part of her strong belief in ensuring access to higher education for all, just one month into her role as interim president she engaged students in an honest discussion about race and equity, launching an effort to create a more just and diverse community.

Cauce is a professor of Psychology and American Ethnic Studies, with secondary appointments in the Department of Gender, Women and Sexuality Studies and the College of Education. She maintains an active research program, focusing on adolescent development, with a special emphasis on at-risk youth. She is also a strong advocate for women and underrepresented minorities to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Davis was named to the Cellular and Developmental Biology (including Genetics), Microbiology and Immunology Section of the Biological Sciences Class of the Academy. Davis and her colleagues explore the dynamics of the chromosome capture that occurs in preparation for cell division.

Impressive molecular machinery tries to assure that each cell resulting from the split receives a proper set of chromosomes. Mistakes in sorting, separating and distributing the chromosomes could cause serious problems, such as cancer. Davis’ team looks at how the movement and segregation of chromosomes is orchestrated. This chromosome assembly is trial and error, but cells usually can find and fix mistakes. As chromosomes attach to the separation machinery, checkpoints tune into to the connection and the tension it produces. If this quality assurance detects that a chromosome is incorrectly captured, it is released for another try.

The Davis lab uses many ways of examining this and related controls. These include genetic analysis, proteomics, quantitative microscopy, computational modeling and biochemical assays.

Davis holds the Earl W. Davie/ZymoGenetics Chair in Biochemistry at UW Medicine. She also heads the UW’s Yeast Resource Center, funded by the National Institutes of Health to develop technologies for exploring protein structure and function.

Toro was named to the Mathematics, Applied Mathematics and Statistics section of the Academy’s Mathematical and Physical Sciences class. Her research centers on the premise that objects, which may at first appear irregular or disordered, actually have regular features that are quantifiable. Toro’s work spans geometric measure theory, harmonic analysis and partial differential equations. Toro studies the mathematical questions that come up in systems where the known data are “rough,” as well as interfaces that arise in “noisy” minimization problems.

In addition to her research, Toro has also worked to increase diversity in mathematics. She helped launch Latinx in the Mathematical Sciences, including two conferences through the National Science Foundation highlighting the achievements of Latinx mathematicians.

Toro joined the UW faculty in 1996 and her career includes numerous honors and accolades. Last year, she received the UW’s Marsha L. Landolt Distinguished Graduate Mentor Award. In 2017, she was elected as a Fellow of the American Mathematical Society. Toro has also been a Guggenheim Fellow, an Alfred P. Sloan Research Fellow and a Simons Foundation Fellow.

Founded in 1780, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences is one of the country’s oldest learned societies and independent policy research centers, convening leaders from the academic, business and government sectors to respond to the challenges facing the nation and the world.

The new members join the company of Academy members elected before them, including Benjamin Franklin and Alexander Hamilton in the eighteenth century; Ralph Waldo Emerson and Maria Mitchell in the nineteenth; and Robert Frost, Martha Graham, Margaret Mead, Milton Friedman, and Martin Luther King, Jr. in the twentieth.

Learn more about the Academy’s mission, members, and work on its website amacad.org.

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