UW News

January 26, 2022

Four UW faculty members, incoming Burke Museum leader named 2021 AAAS Fellows

UW News

Four current University of Washington faculty members and the incoming executive director of the UW’s Burke Museum of Natural History & Culture have been named AAAS Fellows, according to a Jan. 26 announcement by the American Association for the Advancement of Science. They are among 564 new fellows from around the world elected in 2021, who are recognized for “their scientifically and socially distinguished achievements” in science and engineering.

The UW’s new AAAS Fellows are:

Emily Carrington, a professor of biology and resident scientist at the UW’s Friday Harbor Laboratories, is honored for her research contributions in biomechanics and ecophysiology, as well as efforts to promote diversity and inclusion in science. Her research has shown how marine life in near-shore ecosystems, especially invertebrates and seaweeds, respond to both short-term fluctuations in their environment and long-term shifts due to climate change. Carrington’s research has illuminated the many ways that expected shifts in oceans due to climate change — including heat waves and increases in dissolved CO2 — will negatively impact shellfish, algae and other organisms in coastal ecosystems and aquaculture. Her investigations of the biomaterials that mussels use to adhere to underwater surfaces have also aided the design of wet adhesives and antifouling surfaces for biomedical and maritime applications. A member of the UW faculty since 2005, Carrington also served as a program director in the National Science Foundation’s Directorate for Biological Sciences from 2016 to 2019.

Gabriela Chavarria, the incoming executive director of the Burke Museum, is honored for her work on ecosystem sustainability, as well as leadership in education and conservation programs. Chavarria is an expert on native bees. She studies tropical bumblebees, and has long advocated for conservation of native pollinators. Chavarria was also trained as wood anatomist, and has helped to combat illegal traffic of hardwoods. An interest in conservation and policy led Chavarria to work for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as a science adviser to the director, and later became a senior science adviser and head of forensic science at the agency’s wildlife forensic laboratory in Ashland, Oregon. Since 2018, she has served as Chief Curator and Vice President of the Science Division at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science. In announcing Chavarria as the next executive director of the Burke Museum last month, Dianne Harris, Dean of Arts and Sciences at the UW, said: “Chavarria’s experience as a museum administrator, scholar and visionary leader in the scientific community uniquely positions her to lead the Burke in its exciting next chapter.” That chapter commences March 1.

Julia Kovacs, a professor of chemistry, was selected for her studies of a large class of enzymes that promote biochemical reactions in living cells for functions such as suppressing tumor growth, removing toxic compounds and synthesizing antibiotics. Kovacs’ research focuses on how the bonds between atoms in these enzymes shift as they catalyze reactions, revealing details of the underlying mechanism that these key cellular players use to carry out their functions. She is also studying how oxygen atoms form bonds with one another — a process that occurs naturally during photosynthesis, but details of which are poorly understood. Elucidating this mechanism could help the green energy industry develop efficient fuel-storage technologies. Kovacs joined the UW faculty in 1988 and has previously chaired the American Chemical Society’s Division of Inorganic Chemistry.

Richard Ladner, a professor emeritus in the Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science & Engineering, is recognized for his advocacy and inclusion efforts for people with disabilities in computer science and related fields. Trained in mathematics, Ladner spent much of his career researching fundamental issues in computer science — including optimization, computational complexity and distributed computing. He also co-founded what is now the Theory of Computation Group at the Allen School. In the latter half of his career, Ladner worked largely on accessibility in computer science. These endeavors included development of numerous tools to perform specific tasks, for example: translating textbook figures into formats accessible to persons with disabilities, or allowing people to communicate via cell phones using American Sign Language. Among numerous honors, Ladner was a Guggenheim Fellow, a Fulbright Scholar, an Association for Computing Machinery Fellow and an IEEE Fellow. He joined the UW faculty in 1971 and retired as a professor emeritus in 2017.

Stefan Stoll, a professor of chemistry, is honored for developing new techniques and tools in chemistry, particularly novel algorithms and methods for electron paramagnetic resonance spectroscopy. Stoll uses this unique form of spectroscopy — which can explore the microscopic details and fast dynamics of chemical compounds that have unpaired electrons — to measure distances as small as a few nanometers, which is roughly 1/5000th the diameter of the thinnest human hair. Stoll applies this to study the structure of cellular proteins and discern the conformational changes that they undergo while performing their functions, such as catalyzing reactions or regulating heartbeat. These fundamental insights broaden our understanding of the human body and how it works. Stoll joined the UW faculty in 2011.