Two UMass Amherst Professors Elected as Fellows to the American Association for the Advancement of Science
AMHERST, Mass. – The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the preeminent scientific institution in the United States, the world’s largest general scientific society and publisher of the Science family of journals, has elected two professors from the University of Massachusetts Amherst to the newest class of AAAS Fellows, among the most prestigious honors bestowed by the scientific community.
Tricia Serio, associate chancellor for strategic academic planning, dean of the College of Natural Sciences and professor in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, and Lynmarie Thompson, director of the Chemistry-Biology Interface Program and professor in the Department of Chemistry, will join 562 other scientists, engineers and innovators from 24 scientific disciplines in this year’s class of AAAS Fellows.
“The opportunity to become a scientist has changed my life in ways that I could have never predicted,” says Serio. “I’m a first-generation college student, and when I started I didn’t even know that being a scientist was a profession. It’s an incredible honor to be elected an AAAS Fellow.”
Serio’s research is focused on a particular set of cellular proteins, called “prions,” that can change their shape. When their shape changes, so does their function within the cell, and sometimes these shape-shifting proteins can cause serious illness, such as Creutzfeldt-Jakob, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases. “What we want to understand,” says Serio, “is why proteins change their shape, and if they can switch in one direction, causing disease, can they switch back to a healthy state?”
Thompson also studies cellular proteins, though the focus of her work is on proteins in the membrane of a cell. Membrane proteins are responsible for many of the cell’s processes, from harnessing energy to communicating with other cells and sensing the environment. Her lab investigates chemotaxis receptors that sense the environment and can direct the swimming of bacteria, and form protein arrays in the membrane that are “symmetrical and beautifully complex,” as Thompson puts it. Membrane proteins are also the targets for a wide range of therapeutic drugs—and yet their structures and mechanisms remain poorly understood.
“It’s a huge honor to join the community of AAAS fellows,” says Thompson, whose work, among many other insights, has yielded approaches that can be adapted to studying all sorts of other protein assemblies that operate in the cell.
If their intellectual pursuits weren’t enough, both Serio and Thompson are committed to making science a more inclusive, diverse and interdisciplinary endeavor. Thompson has directed the Chemistry-Biology Interface Program (CBI) for twenty years, during which time it has grown to include over 30 labs in various departments across UMass Amherst, hosts a monthly seminar that draws 70+ attendees per session, and annually provides NIH funding for 12 graduate students to work at the intersection of chemistry and biology. Through both CBI and PREP (the Postbaccalaureate Research Education Program), she works to recruit and retain graduate students from under-represented backgrounds. Thompson has also been tireless in her support of addressing gender inequality in the natural sciences, and her mutual mentoring group for women has become a model throughout UMass for supporting underrepresented researchers.
Serio draws on her own experience in her work as dean of the College of Natural Science (CNS). “I have seen the points at which people struggle, and the barriers that arise in the course of one’s career. I felt there was an opportunity on the administrative front for me to contribute beyond my own research and teaching to address those challenges and support the success of others.” Under Serio’s leadership, CNS has become a place where, as Serio puts it, “the intersection of discipline and creative interests can change the world in ways that are unique to each individual.”
“AAAS is proud to bestow the honor of AAAS Fellow to some of today’s brightest minds who are integral to forging our path into the future,” said Dr. Sudip Parikh, AAAS chief executive officer and executive publisher of the Science family of journals. “We celebrate these distinguished individuals for their invaluable contributions to the scientific enterprise.”
Serio and Thompson, both of whom are members of the graduate program in molecular and cellular biology at UMass, are also supported by the facilities and intellectual camaraderie of the UMass Institute for Applied Life Sciences (IALS), which combines deep and interdisciplinary expertise from 29 departments on the UMass Amherst campus to translate fundamental research into innovations that benefit human health and well-being.