Washington Research Foundation | WRF Capital

WRF Postdoctoral Fellows

WRF Postdoctoral Fellows are funded for three years at eligible institutions in Washington state to work on ambitious projects addressing major public needs.


2018 Fellows

Dr. Connor Bischak, University of Washington Department of Chemistry
Dr. Matthew Crane, University of Washington Department of Chemistry
Dr. Jesse Erasmus, Infectious Disease Research Institute
Dr. Max Friedfeld, University of Washington Department of Chemistry
Dr. Kameron Decker Harris, University of Washington School of Computer Science and Engineering
Dr. Luke Parsons, University of Washington Department of Atmospheric Sciences
Dr. Daniel Reeves, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center
Dr. Mary Regier, University of Washington Department of Bioengineering
Dr. Ian Richardson, Washington State University School of Mechanical and Materials Engineering
Dr. Emma Schmidgall, University of Washington Department of Physics

Dr. Connor Bischak, University of Washington Department of Chemistry

What would you like people to know about you?
I am a physical chemist interested in developing new technologies for interfacing biological systems and human-made electronics. I use microscopic observations to guide optimization of interfaces between biological systems and human-made electronics.

How do you describe your research to colleagues?
I am developing new devices that transduce small changes in ion concentration to large charges in electrical current for applications in biosensing and bioelectronics interfaces. Using insights gained from imaging these materials at very small length scales, I establish new design principles that lead to more efficient devices. For example, by investigating and then optimizing ion and electronic transport at small length scales, we can boost overall device efficiency and speed.

How do you describe your research to non-scientists?
There is a language barrier between how biological systems communicate and how human-made electronics transfer information that prevents these two disparate systems from communicating efficiently. Overcoming this language barrier requires new technologies that translate biological signals into electronic outputs (and vice versa) with high efficiency and speed. My work focuses on developing new interface technologies that improve communications between biological systems and human-made electronics.

What public benefit do you hope will come from your work?
The new interface platform that we are developing should help improve many technologies that rely on interfacing biological systems and human-made electronics, such as biosensing, artificial limbs, and implantable devices.

What difference has the Washington Research Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship made to your work?
The WRF Postdoctoral Fellowship grants me the freedom to pursue my own interests, while providing the resources and guidance to help translate discoveries made in a research lab into viable commercial products that benefit the public.


Connor Bischak

Dr. Connor Bischak


Dr. Matthew Crane, University of Washington Department of Chemistry

What would you like people to know about you?
Since I was a kid, I’ve been fascinated by puzzles and the satisfaction of solving them. Science has some hard puzzles, and I’m constantly enticed by the strange phenomena that we observe. I also firmly believe that science and technology have a powerful role in producing global equity, and I’m excited to be a part of that revolution. When I’m not aligning optics in a basement, I’m a huge music nerd who loves hiking. I started playing in bands in high school, and I’ve managed to keep it up as a postdoc.

How do you describe your research to colleagues?
Over the past few decades, colloidal nanomaterials syntheses have enabled the production of nanomaterials with arbitrary compositions, geometries, and dopants distributions. However, deterministically assembling colloidal nanomaterials into devices remains challenging. When we want to attach nanoparticles, we’re restricted to lithography, which has severe limitations in materials properties. In my research, I’m building an optical printer that uses radiation pressure from lasers to assemble nanoparticles onto a surface. Because nanoparticles have size-dependent properties, using light enables simultaneous size selection during printing. I will use an optical printer to create single nanowire transistors and waveguides with single nanoparticles for quantum computing.

How do you describe your research to non-scientists?
While we’ve made huge strides in creating nanomaterials, we’ve don’t have many great ways of assembling these into individual devices—it’s pretty hard to pick up a nanocrystal 10,000 times thinner than your hair and put it next to another one! For example, if you wanted to make a transistor out of a single nanowire, right now, you’d have to synthesize billions of nanowires in a solution, drop them onto a surface, find the right one, and then deposit custom electrodes on top of it. It’s not easy. I’m developing scalable techniques to assemble individual nanomaterials into devices with light by building a 3D printer for nanomaterials. It turns out that highly focused light can induce pressure on nanomaterials, which offers the ability to assemble individual nanomaterials into devices. I’m building a tool to leverage that effect to assemble nanomaterials into arbitrary structures.

What public benefit do you hope will come from your work?
For years, we’ve heard stories about the wild possibilities of nanotechnology. With my research, I want to make these possibilities a reality, so that we can see quantum computing or nanoparticle computing within 10 years.

What difference has the Washington Research Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship made to your work?
In short, the WRF Postdoctoral Fellowship made my research possible. Big, long-term projects like this research take time to troubleshoot and develop. In a climate of questionable extended funding, the WRF offers a unique chance—I couldn’t find any other three-year fellowships—to take a shot at big ideas.


Matthew Crane

Dr. Matthew Crane


Dr. Jesse Erasmus, Infectious Disease Research Institute

What would you like people to know about you?
I am a virologist interested in developing new technologies to counter emerging infectious diseases as well as training the next generation of scientists.

How do you describe your research to colleagues?
I study mechanisms of virus replication across diverse hosts and develop platform technologies that exploit these various mechanisms to express a protein of interest and drive distinct immune responses to that protein. This involves probing the virus-host interface to understand the relationship between viral factors and host responses so that we can utilize the former to shape the latter in developing interventions.

How do you describe your research to non-scientists?
I am trying to develop a variety of tools that we in the research community can use to rapidly respond to outbreaks of emerging diseases. Part of that response is rapid identification of the disease-causing agent by a variety of diagnostic strategies as well as halting transmission by deploying vaccines and therapeutics.

What public benefit do you hope will come from your work?
I hope to establish a workflow and the necessary tools to enable rapid response to emerging infectious diseases. In the process, I aim to develop vaccines and diagnostics for many established diseases in preparation for those yet to come.

What difference has the Washington Research Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship made to your work?
The WRF Postdoctoral Fellowship has enabled me to pursue ideas distinct from my mentors and establish a research program that is complementary to the mission of my institute. Additionally, the network of outstanding scientists associated with the WRF is proving to be invaluable.


Jesse Erasmus

Dr. Jesse Erasmus


Dr. Kameron Decker Harris, University of Washington School of Computer Science and Engineering

What would you like people to know about you?
I grew up in Vermont and lived there until moving to Seattle. That's besides a year and a half spent in Chile where I worked on bus transportation and enjoyed exploring the Andes. I love the outdoors, and Washington has incredible mountains.

How do you describe your research to colleagues?
I study how neuron network structure determines brain function. Artificial neural networks, originally inspired by the brain, are proving to be incredibly powerful tools for machine learning. However, we still know very little about why they work so well. On the other hand, our brains are the most complex known objects in the universe and much more flexible learning machines than any extant artificial network. We have a lot to learn from biology that can inform our algorithms, while we also rely on data analysis algorithms to understand modern neuroscience experiments.

How do you describe your research to non-scientists?
I use computers to study how the brain works. This means analyzing data to explain what's going on in experiments as well as theories to explain why the neurons do what they do. Math is important, because it's the language of information, and our brains are information processing machines.

What public benefit do you hope will come from your work?
There will be many advances in machine intelligence that come from better understanding of the brain, and machine learning algorithms are everywhere these days. On the medical side, brain-machine interface devices are part of an emerging set of therapies for conditions such as paralysis and Parkinson's disease. We need more understanding to implement these therapies in the best way possible.

What difference has the Washington Research Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship made to your work?
It's given me the opportunity to stay in Seattle, an area I love, and the freedom to pursue my own research agenda.


Kameron Harris

Dr. Kameron Decker Harris


Dr. Luke Parsons, University of Washington Department of Atmospheric Sciences

What would you like people to know about you?
I am a climate researcher, landscape photographer, and outdoor enthusiast. I hope my research will advance understanding related to the sources and impacts of climate variability and change.

How do you describe your research to colleagues?
I am a climate dynamicist. Specifically, I use instrumental, paleoclimate, and the latest climate model data to study the sources and impacts of climate variability at annual to century timescales. I am currently using data assimilation to combine paleoclimate and climate model data to study climate variability and its associated dynamics during the last millennium.

How do you describe your research to non-scientists?
I am interested in how internal climate variations will combine with global warming to impact humans and the environment. I hope my research will help us understand more about how future climate change will unfold: will future warming occur relatively smoothly, like a ramp, or in fits and starts, like an uneven staircase? Furthermore, how will warming and climate variability combine to impact communities and ecosystems?

What public benefit do you hope will come from your work?
I plan to study how warming and internal climate variations will combine to affect coastal ecosystems and fisheries. Specifically, I am interested in how climate change will affect toxic Harmful Algal Blooms (HAB), which can cause widespread, costly fisheries closures. Recent research suggests that warming of the ocean surface has already expanded the niche of toxic HABs. Unusually warm temperatures off the U.S. west coast in 2015 set the stage for a toxic HAB that forced closures of the commercial dungeness crab fisheries that led to revenue losses of more than $90 million. My research will focus on answering how regional climate variability will combine with global climate change to impact future toxic algal blooms and fisheries.

What difference has the Washington Research Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship made to your work?
The WRF Postdoctoral Fellowship is allowing me to work with a world-renowned group of researchers at the University of Washington and the NOAA Northwest Fisheries. Specifically, the Fellowship is allowing me to learn new data assimilation techniques and giving me the opportunity to apply my climate research background to study how climate variability and change will affect the Pacific Northwest.


Luke Parsons

Dr. Luke Parsons


Dr. Daniel Reeves, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center

What would you like people to know about you?
I’m a physicist working at the Fred Hutch now as a mathematical biologist. I’m constantly inspired by the complexity of host-pathogen dynamics and how a better understanding of our own immune systems might help end the AIDS epidemic.

How do you describe your research to colleagues?
Our group develops mathematical models of HIV in the context of cure. We are particularly interested in the HIV reservoir, and how proliferation of latently infected cells contributes to persistence of the virus during antiretroviral therapy. I am personally working on the interface of modeling and phylodynamics to make use of available HIV sequence and viral dynamic data simultaneously.

How do you describe your research to non-scientists?
I’m a physicist and I use mathematics to describe how the HIV virus grows and evolves within the human body. We hope to understand the complex interplay between the human immune system and the virus and our ultimate goal is to eliminate the virus and develop a cure.

What public benefit do you hope will come from your work?
The HIV/AIDS epidemic still affects millions around the globe. While antiretroviral therapy can suppress the virus, not all persons infected with HIV can tolerate, afford, or access this transformative medication. A cure for HIV is still desperately needed to decrease the global burden of AIDS, and we hope our research will contribute directly to design of the optimal HIV cure or prevention strategy.

What difference has the Washington Research Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship made to your work?
The WRF Fellowship provides me an unparalleled opportunity to grow my research program in Seattle. By allowing me to work independently and leverage my strong local collaborative network, the WRF gives me the time to collect preliminary data that may grow into future grant proposals and an independent investigator position.


Daniel Reeves

Dr. Daniel Reeves


Dr. Mary Regier, University of Washington Department of Bioengineering

What would you like people to know about you?
I am a bioengineer interested in providing the biomedical community with new ways of understanding the complex interactions amongst cells and between cells and their environment. My focus is in developing technologies that are both biologically powerful and technically simple and robust.

How do you describe your research to colleagues?
My research is aimed at providing the research community with tools for precisely controlling the soluble factors around cells spatially and temporally. The methods I am developing are designed to enable studies of how populations of cells sense and respond to the types of signal patterns that govern physiological processes in the body. For example, I am working to use these tools to understand how stem cells interpret signals that control development, specifically morphogen signal gradients.

How do you describe your research to non-scientists?
My goal is to be able to bridge the differences in complexity between how we study cells in the laboratory and how cells experience their environment in the body. I am focusing on the dissolved signals that cells use to communicate with each other as the signals spread from cell to cell in tissues. Patterns of these signals coordinate cell functions so that cells can work together to perform complex processes like embryonic development, wound healing, and day-to-day tissue maintenance. The technologies I am developing will allow scientists to control and study signal patterns in the lab so that we can better understand how cells communicate and how we can help direct cells during disease and healing.

What public benefit do you hope will come from your work?
My hope is that my research will improve our ability to understand how cells communicate. It is my goal to use this understanding and the ability to control signal patterns to expand our capabilities for directing cell functions. Achieving these goals will allow us to use cells’ innate abilities to signal and respond to each other for applications like tissue engineering and treatment of diseases affecting cell-to-cell communication.

What difference has the Washington Research Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship made to your work?
This Fellowship has allowed me to focus on this research, to share my work, and to learn more about making an idea into a product that others can use and benefit from.


Mary Regier

Dr. Mary Regier


Dr. Ian Richardson, Washington State University School of Mechanical and Materials Engineering

What would you like people to know about you?
As a mechanical engineer and entrepreneur at Washington State University, I am working to expand the use of clean, renewable hydrogen in the state of Washington. Originally from the Pacific Northwest, I enjoy all that this area has to offer including camping, hiking, and snowboarding.

How do you describe your research to colleagues?
I am developing a 3D-printed, lightweight liquid-hydrogen fuel tank for use in Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs). This tank incorporates the heat exchanger into the tank walls to reduce insulation and minimize tank mass. My research includes evaluation of suitable tank materials and permeation barriers, and the development of the liquid-hydrogen fueling system required to refuel these tanks.

How do you describe your research to non-scientists?
I am developing a lightweight liquid-hydrogen fuel tank to increase the reliability and flight times of drones. By pairing this hydrogen tank with a fuel cell, these systems can provide several hours of electricity to power fixed-wing and multirotor aircrafts enabling the use of drones for applications like package delivery, gas and power line inspections, forest fire monitoring, etc.

What public benefit do you hope will come from your work?
The state of Washington has always been a world leader in energy production and storage. Through this work I hope to expand the use of clean hydrogen for the transportation sector to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels.

What difference has the Washington Research Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship made to your work?
The WRF Postdoctoral Fellowship has provided the opportunity to continue my research to promote hydrogen as a leading clean fuel. WRF also provides the expertise and resources necessary to commercialize my technologies to provide the largest benefit to the region.


Ian Richardson

Dr. Ian Richardson


Dr. Emma Schmidgall, University of Washington Department of Physics

What would you like people to know about you?
I'm from Minneapolis, went to school in California, England, and Israel, and for the last two years I've been living in Seattle. I love experimental physics because it's got the best toys, like lasers and liquid nitrogen. In my spare time, I play violin in the Kirkland Civic Orchestra, ski, and run.

How do you describe your research to colleagues?
The main problem in building a functional quantum computer is scalability. We know how to make one qubit, but how do we link together enough qubits to build a scalable computer? In several platforms, the problems are photon loss and low emission rates. We are tackling this by using integrated photonic chips to enhance the emission rate and route/process the light more efficiently on-chip. Our particular qubit system is the nitrogen vacancy center in diamond, but this type of integrated photonics work is currently of interest in several qubit platforms.

How do you describe your research to non-scientists?
I'm trying to build a quantum computer. It doesn't work yet because we only have one bit, but we're working on that part now.

What public benefit do you hope will come from your work?
Scalable, commercial quantum computation within the next 10 years. Barring that, I'd like to see photonics fabrication, even in odd materials, as easy as silicon electronics fabrication.

What difference has the Washington Research Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship made to your work?
Networking with other scientists and innovators in the greater Seattle area has so far been a fantastic component of the Fellowship.


Emma Schmidgall

Dr. Emma Schmidgall