Alshakim Nelson Named MolES Director of Education

Filed Under: MolE PhDNews

Alshakim Nelson

Alshakim Nelson, UW associate professor of chemistry, has been named Molecular Engineering & Sciences Institute (MolES) Director of Education. Nelson replaces Christine Luscombe, professor of chemistry and materials science & engineering, who served in the role prior to her recent appointment as interim chair of the Materials Science & Engineering Department. Nelson will lead the Molecular Engineering (MolE) Ph.D. Program, an interdisciplinary graduate program housed in the UW Graduate School and administered by the Molecular Engineering & Sciences Institute. Nelson will direct the academic program and oversee a faculty committee responsible for curriculum, admissions, and oversight of students.

“We are thrilled to have Al come on board – his scholarship and dedication to interdisciplinary research, mentorship and education make him an outstanding fit for this position,” said MolES director Pat Stayton. “We are grateful to Christine for her leadership in growing the MolE Ph.D. program and for her continued support.”

“The MolE Ph.D. program really speaks to me in that its unique structure gives students the flexibility to work with faculty using molecular-scale approaches and tools, regardless of the department they are in,” said Nelson. “This not only allows students to follow their research interests, wherever they might lie, but also provides faculty with the ability to work with students who have different disciplinary backgrounds. I’m looking forward to working with our students and faculty to expand the reach and impact of this phenomenal program.”

Nelson’s own lab takes an interdisciplinary approach to the synthesis, characterization, and processing of stimuli-responsive materials for 3D printing. His team is particularly interested in developing materials for additive manufacturing that can be used by the life sciences industry. Nelson has received numerous awards and honors in recognition of his research including IBM Master Inventor, ACS PMSE Young Investigator, Kavli Foundation Fellow, NSF CAREER award, and 3M Non-Tenured Faculty Award.

Prior to joining the UW as a faculty member in 2015, Nelson spent ten years working as a staff scientist at the IBM Almaden Research Center where he focused on the synthesis of nanomaterial building blocks that enabled large area nanomanufacturing via self-assembly.

Graduate student Trevor Johnston puts the 3D-printed hydrogel back in it’s container as professor Alshakim Nelson watches. Photo credit: Kandace Kimball

“With many of our students interested in pursuing careers with biotech and cleantech companies, Al’s combination of experience inside and outside academia is especially valuable,” said Stayton.

MolES launched its Ph.D. program in molecular engineering in 2014 – the first such program in the world. Molecular engineering integrates molecular-level science and engineering to drive new technologies that can address urgent societal needs in sustainable energy and human health. The program is overseen by an interdisciplinary committee comprised of representatives from the Departments of Bioengineering, Chemical Engineering, Chemistry, Electrical & Computer Engineering, Materials Sciences & Engineering, Mechanical Engineering, and Physics.

MolE students work with faculty researchers across the UW and at local research institutions – including the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research CenterSeattle Children’s Research InstitutePacific Northwest Research Institute, and the Institute for Systems Biology – on a wide range of projects from developing better battery materials for a clean energy future, to designing de novo proteins that selectively bind targets to treat or prevent disease. The program currently serves 69 graduate students and has graduated 11 Ph.Ds. These graduates have gone on to successful careers in academia and in industry, working in fields such as drug development, energy, and manufacturing.